Afghanistan veteran Duncan Slater, the first double amputee veteran to race to the South Pole and complete the world's toughest marathon, has visited Maghaberry Prison.
The ex-RAF platoon sergeant lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan in 2009 when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle. But on his journey to recovery, and whilst fitted with new high-tech prosthetic legs, he completed the gruelling 156 miles Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert earlier this year.
He was also part of the South Pole Allied Challenge in 2013 when three teams of wounded servicemen and women from the UK, US, Australia and Canada trekked to the South Pole, all in aid of the Walking with the Wounded charity.
During his visit to Maghaberry Prison, which was organised by the Prisoner Development Unit, Duncan spoke to prisoners and staff about overcoming injury and adversity.
Duncan said: “It was back in 2009, while on patrol in the Helmand region of Afghanistan, the vehicle I was travelling in hit an Improvised Explosive Device. I was thrown 40 feet by the impact and suffered breakages to my legs, ankles, ribs, lower back, shoulder-blade and left arm. The only unbroken part of my body was my right arm. After 12 months of rehab I had both legs amputated.
“Then I believed my life was really going to be limited. I was told by my doctor that I would never walk or run without pain again. But I was determined to prove otherwise. I wanted to show others that amputees can do anything and I’ve been on a bit of a journey of recovery ever since,” he said.
“I’ve never been into a prison before and didn’t know quite what to expect – and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I got to meet a lot of the prisoners and chat to them. They’ve obviously all made some bad choices in life which have brought them into prison, but there is no reason for us to condemn anyone for the rest of their lives. I spoke to them about what happened to me and how I got my life back together and, if in some way it helps anyone in prison here get their life back on track, then surely it can only be good.”
Andy Tosh, Head of the Prisoner Development Unit at Maghaberry, said: “Duncan is just one of a number of motivational speakers we have invited into Maghaberry recently to talk to prisoners and staff about their own personal experiences. His presentation was a powerful story of overcoming adversity, teamwork, humility, compassion and sense of self. He presented with humour and grace and I fail to see how anyone could not find this story of huge inspiration.
“From a Prison Service perspective, this is a very worthwhile initiative to help rehabilitate, reduce offending and encourage those who leave prison to play a positive role when they return to the community.”
Among those to meet and speak with Duncan during his visit was prisoner Brian who is serving a life sentence.
He said: “Duncan’s story was inspirational. It made me realise that you can deal with whatever life throws at you, that with a little help and support you can get through the hard times. Coming into prison was a big shock for me, but I’m learning to cope with it. I know I’ve got to make the most of it, and hearing how Duncan has overcome life-changing injuries to become the man he is today is a massive boost.”
A cheque for £1,000 from Northern Ireland Prison Service, proceeds of a staff barbeque, was presented to Duncan at the conclusion of his visit for Walking with the Wounded charity.