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Injured troops in rowing challenge

A group of servicemen - two of whom lost limbs in Afghanistan - are taking on the world's toughest rowing race to raise money for injured troops.

The four-man Row2Recovery team will spend around 50 days at sea, sailing from the Canary Islands to Antigua, in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

Injured Cayle Royce and Scott Blaney will be joined by fellow servicemen James Kayll and Mark Jenkins to raise money for Help For Heroes.

Last year a six-man Row2Recovery team raised £1 million for wounded soldiers after completing the 3,000-mile (4,828km) feat in 51 days.

This year's team will travel to the Canary Islands on November 18, and then set sail on December 2, hoping to arrive sometime in late January.

Rowing for two hours on and two hours off, they will live on freeze-dried food, battling severe weather conditions as well as physical challenges.

The team includes Trooper Royce, from the Light Dragoons, who was severely injured last May when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving as a sharpshooter in Afghanistan.

The 27-year-old, from Dartmouth, Devon, lost both legs above the knee, had several fingers on his left hand amputated and suffered neck trauma and facial scarring.

The keen outdoorsman, who grew up in South Africa, has already been skydiving since his injury and taken up mono skiing, hand cycling and sea kayaking.

He said: "I get bored too easily, I have to keep moving. I think getting out and getting involved is a huge part of rehabilitation.

"A lot of guys lose sight of the fact that they can still do stuff. It's very easy to become comfortably depressed."

The 27-year-old, who served in the Light Dragoons with the team's skipper, Captain Kayll, said: "I'm not nervous or worried about the row itself, I think it'll be just fine. We have got excellent support and a very level-headed crew."

For fellow amputee Corporal Blaney, the challenge is the latest in a list of feats since having his right leg amputated above the knee after an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2007.

Since his injury, the 27-year-old, who serves with the Grenadier Guards, has run three marathons and swum the English Channel.

Cpl Blaney, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, said being away from fiancee Amy Lee for weeks, including Christmas, would be worth it to raise the profile of injured soldiers.

"It is so important because now Afghanistan is finishing there's probably not going to be another tour now for the next few years.

"We don't want people to forget what we went through and what we did for our country."

Despite never rowing so far before, he remains undaunted: "I had never swum great distances before but I did, I had never run a marathon before but I did, and I've never done this before, but I can do it.

"I've always wanted to push myself. When I got injured I lay in bed and thought 'Right, I've lost my leg, my arm is damaged', but I thought 'There's no point crying over spilt milk, I've got another leg, I will be able to walk again'.

"I set myself targets, so I walked within six months, then I wanted to run, and ran my first a marathon within a year of being injured.

"It's a mental thing. I think of the colleagues I have lost - I'm doing it for them and their families and the guys who can't do it because they're too severely disabled.

"Me going through a bit of pain for a few months is not as much as what they go through every day."

Rowing alongside Cpl Blaney is Captain Mark Jenkins, a physiotherapy officer with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Capt Jenkins, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said: "In different ways we've all served abroad in relatively hairy situations at times and have all been through arduous circumstances and we've come away from it. We have been tested to a certain extent and we've come through it."

The 34-year-old, from Brighton, added: "My biggest worry is seasickness. I've never been seasick before at sea, but I've never been on a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean.

"It will very much be an environment I'm not used to but that's what life's about - relishing the challenges and pushing yourself."

Team leader Capt Kayll, also from the Light Dragoons, has served twice in Afghanistan.

An experienced sailor, in 2011 he became the first person to have both sailed and rowed the Indian Ocean and has also already sailed the Atlantic twice.

He said the feat would not only raise money, but was important for helping the recovery of those who had suffered life-changing injuries: "I t gives them a goal. It gives them a belief that there is life after injury."

Of the hardships they will face at sea, he said: " You're on a very small boat, you can't go anywhere. You haven't got any room for privacy, then there's the mental factors, and the environment, the waves, the wind.

"Your body deteriorates as you progress, you lose weight quite quickly, you develop nasty bruises and rashes and chafing."

The 31-year-old, from Blandford, Dorset, added: "It's all about finding a routine that's sustainable so when you do finish rowing you clean yourself and get as much sleep as you can and eat what you can and be ready to go back on the oars in two hours' time.

"Ultimately it's 80% mental and 20% physical. I know of people who have attempted these things having done very very little rowing practice.

"The fitter you are and the more training you do, the better you are prepared, but if you're mentally prepared as well then that's a huge advantage."


From Belfast Telegraph