Belfast Telegraph

We did it! Disabled war hero finishes the world’s toughest race

By Chris Kilpatrick

Two years ago Phillip Gillespie undertook the biggest challenge of his life — battling back to fitness after horrific injuries when he was blown up by the Taliban.

But despite the enormous task of overcoming his injuries, including the loss of his right leg, he said nothing would prepare him for attempting to conquer the most dangerous race in the world — The Dakar Rally.

On Saturday — two years after his life was changed forever — he crossed the finishing line of the notorious competition in Santiago, Chile, as part of the first disabled crew to do so.

Phillip — known to his mates as Barney — was an integral member of the Race2Recovery team, made up of members of the armed forces seriously wounded in action.

The 24-year-old from Ballymena, who wears a prosthetic limb from the right knee down, was in the last remaining vehicle the team had, along with teammate Matt O’Hare, after the crew’s other three vehicles crashed out of the daunting challenge. And the pair made history, crossing the finish line in Chile on Saturday having set off from Peru three weeks before.

“We have found out first-hand why they call the Dakar Rally the hardest race in the world,” said Phillip. “It has pushed every single one us to our limits. To be able to stand here at the finish line and say we achieved what we set out to achieve, to become the first ever disability team to complete the Dakar Rally, feels magical.

“Our team motto is ‘Beyond Injury — Achieving The Extraordinary’, and we’ve done just that. I hope we’ve been able to inspire people who may be facing difficulties through injury or illness.

“The support we’ve received from everyone — our sponsors, supporters, families, friends, the military and complete strangers — has been amazing and is testament to the ability and dedication of this team.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sent a message of congratulations. They said: “We know it was not easy, but you have today become true record holders as the first ever disability team to complete what is one of the world's toughest challenges.

“What you have achieved was a triumph of perseverance and teamwork, and you have shown the world what true valour looks like. We hope you get some rest now, and, please, no driving like that on our roads when you're back!”

The annual off-road Dakar Rally is considered one of the toughest endurance events in the world.

It started in Peru, with competitors racing over tough terrain into Argentina and then Chile.

The team’s first car was forced to retire after two days when a race committee ruled it had not met sufficient points, and a second was forced to pull out after day four due to a mechanical failure. The third retired after an in-race accident.

Before he set off to South America, Phillip said he wanted to challenge people's perceptions of those with disabilities.

The Race2Recovery team are expected to return home this week after recovering from the trip.

Donations to the team's fundraising campaign can be made at www.race2recovery.com

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