Double amputee tackles 'hell race'
A soldier who lost both his legs in a explosion in Afghanistan has been described as an inspiration by the organisers of an extreme challenge dubbed "the obstacle race from hell".
Lance Bombardier James Simpson, 27, is set to be the first double amputee to take part in a Spartan Race event.
Spartan Race is an open country run punctuated with a range of punishing, surprise obstacles - from mud crawls and ice-pit plunges to cargo-net climbs and fire-log leaps. Organisers sum it up as "an event of pure, primitive craziness".
L/Bdr Simpson, from Rawdon, near Leeds, was serving with 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery when he stepped on an improvised explosive device as he returned from a foot patrol in Helmand. He lost both his legs above the knee and also damaged both his arms in the blast in November 2009.
He is training for the Spartan Race in woods close to his West Yorkshire home where he is trying to match his different prosthetics with the terrain and obstacles the event will throw at him. He has been using his running blades - shortened versions of those used by Paralympics track athletes - and what he calls his stubbies, which are small pads that fit on the bottom of what is left of his thighs.
L/Bdr Simpson said he plans to carry both at the event next month and swap them when necessary using just an Allen key. He said: "It's going to be a challenge. It's not so much the run I'm really worried about, it's getting over the obstacles.
"I'm going to be a lot shorter because of my blades. I'm going to have to rely on my arms and my legs. I want every step to be my own. I don't want to rely on my team to get me over obstacles. I want to get over an obstacle, if it takes 10 minutes or if it takes 30 seconds, I'm going to get over each obstacle by myself. Even if I change my feet and then, halfway through the obstacle, I have to change back, I'm going to get across every obstacle."
Almost as soon as L/Bdr Simpson arrived at the special military wing at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital following his devastating injuries three years ago, he began to plan how he was going to walk again. But despite quickly mastering his prosthetic legs with the help of the Army's rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, in Surrey, it was only earlier this year that he decided that he wanted to start running properly again.
He said he took the decision after agreeing to run in a 1500m race at the Warrior Games for injured servicemen in the United States and surprising himself with how much he enjoyed it.
He said: "My first challenge was to walk again, not run around an assault course with loads of mud. I gave myself a few months to do that and then, when I achieved that, I never really focused on running much. Running's only something I've started doing seriously this year. Then I saw some pictures of some of my friends who did a Spartan Race in America and I was, like 'I want to give that a bash'."