Injured former captain completes first leg of Arch to Arc endurance test
A former Royal Engineers' captain left brain damaged by a bomb in Afghanistan has completed the first leg of one of the world's toughest endurance events.
The waters of the English Channel at Dover lapped yards away as a relieved Rob Cromey-Hawke from Cowling in North Yorkshire led his elite Inspire relay team across the finishing line at 2am.
The athletes were 12 hours into the daunting Enduroman Arch to Arc challenge, a physical and mental slog from London's Marble Arch to Paris' Arc De Triomphe.
Mr Cromey-Hawke, 32, was hurt during his second tour of Afghanistan in 2012 after the vehicle he was travelling in drove over an improvised explosive device. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and damage to his back and spine as well as hearing loss.
He said: "I feel a little cold but very relieved to get here this far now and really excited to get that part out of the way.
"It is the bit that I was looking forward to the least because the wheelchair part for me is the hardest of the three disciplines so to make it here with a very good time and an excellent performance from the rest of the team, as well to get us here ahead of schedule, which gives us a bit of time to get some food and sort our kit out before we get ready for the Channel swim."
His group, including several members injured by Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, travelled 87 miles from Marble Arch in London to the south coast. They are swimming the Channel on Saturday and aim to be in Paris by bike tomorrow.
In Dover Mr Cromey-Hawke eased himself gently from the recumbent bike which carried him over many miles and shook hands with a team mate.
An all-female team, including wheelchair-bound women, was the last to arrive, narrowly reaching Dover in time for their swimming tidal window. At one stage it looked like the hills of Kent would badly delay them and heads started to drop but they made up a lot of time.
In Dover competitors ate sausages from the ration pack-style bags and donned giant robes which looked like duvets to protect against the chill air.
One walked using a prosthetic limb. The atmosphere, with the first hot food since London, was purposeful and chummy, like an army mess room.
Another member of Inspire, Lewis Edwards, had set a fierce pace, racing at a fast gait through the suburbs near Maidstone in Kent.
His right arm ended just below the shoulder in a white bandage. The former private in the Royal Welsh Regiment, 27, lost his limb above the elbow in a road traffic accident.
Just days away from his first tour of Iraq he was travelling to Tidworth in Wiltshire with three Royal Welsh colleagues, when he slammed on his brakes after something appeared in the headlights. The car hit the central reservation and flipped over on to its roof.
He said: "All the adrenalin was kicking in. I wasn't panicking - I was just thinking, 'Could it be fixed?
"As I was looking at it I was thinking, 'Is this me losing an arm or are they going to be able to put some plastic elbow in? I knew the elbow had gone - I could see that by looking at it."