Former Army Captain, Dave Henson (from Fareham, Hampshire) who served with the Royal Engineers, lost both of his legs when he stepped on an IED in February 2011 when on patrol in Helmand, Afghanistan.
“The next thing I knew I was awake in Camp Bastion hospital in the evening after my lads had loaded me on the helicopter. And that was it – legless.”
He subsequently spent five weeks in the care of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, a very highly skilled military medical unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, before being sent to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court.
Dave was in and out of Headley Court for about 18 months, and used swimming as a “vital part” of his recovery. As soon as his wounds were healed, he moved on to open water swimming with his family.
“Time is a big healer as anyone who has been through anything traumatic will know. It just takes time. Probably at six months in I had fully adjusted – not only to the physical side of the injury but to the mental side and the loss of career. That was probably the hardest adjustment to make.”
In 2012 he learned to ski, returned to work assisting other injured servicemen and women and was part of a UK exhibition team that competed in the Warrior Games, an inter-services sports competition for the US Military branches, supported and led by Help for Heroes. Dave returned to the Warrior Games as the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team in May 2013, winning medals in the swimming pool, on the volleyball court and on the track. This first experience of track racing inspired him to take the sport further, pairing up with his sprint coach, Roger Keller, in October 2013.
In 2013 Dave started a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, graduating with Merit in 2014. During his recent degree, Dave designed a joint recreation implant for use with through-knee amputees that can help amputees regain some of the function lost with the loss of the knee joint. He started his PhD on the same subject in April 2015.
At the same time, Dave continued with his athletics training and became involved behind the scenes of the Invictus Games – an international sports tournament championed by Prince Harry for injured servicemen and women from around the world, where he was the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team. Alongside a hugely successful British Team, Dave took home gold medals in Sitting Volleyball and in the 200m sprint on the track. Despite being new to the sport, Dave’s 2014 PB saw him comfortably into the world top ten.
Last year saw Dave compete on the World stage in various IPC events, with highlights of a silver medal at the Anniversary Games (2015) and seventh place at his first World Championships in Doha – a huge achievement in such a short space of time.
He returned to the Invictus Games this year (2016) in Orlando to reclaim his title and gold medal in the T42 200m, where he ran a Personal Best in front of Prince Harry who was track side watching the race.
“Everyone’s got the right to access sport regardless of your ability or disability. For the military though, sport is massively important because it forms such an important part of our normal everyday working life pre-injury, so for us to have the ability to regain what we might have thought was lost is huge.”
“My goal for sports is to keep on doing it while I still enjoy it. There will probably come a time where my body starts to say ‘Dave, you’ve got to start taking it easy’. Certainly on the blades, because they are quite a big impact on your body. There’s a bit of a price to pay with running that quickly but at the minute my body is feeling alright and I’m still enjoying it so that’s my aim for sport – to go as far as I can, as fast as I can while I’m still smiling!”
The support provided to Dave forms part of Help for Heroes’ partnership with The British Paralympic Association and UK Sport to introduce military personnel to Paralympic Sport.