Joining the 2nd Parachute Regiment (Paras) in 2003 Dean Middleton had his sights set on a long and rewarding career in the British Military.
Over the next seven years Dean served his country in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. He then started thinking about transferring to the pinnacle of the British Military – the SAS: “My plan was to pass selection and live happily ever after.”
However, living happily ever after took on a whole new meaning when Dean and the 2 Paras deployed to battle the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2010.
On 21 December the 2 Paras rolled out in their armoured vehicle to patrol the area they were protecting. Then they hit an IED. The force of the blast was so strong Dean was thrown clear of the vehicle and was knocked unconscious. His friend, Corporal Steven Dunn, was killed instantly.
Dean’s body had been battered by the blast and he sustained multiple injuries: “I don’t remember anything from the incident. I have post traumatic amnesia, which means my brain has basically lost the memory of the explosion and what followed.”
His surgeon’s biggest concern was that his brain was swelling dangerously fast: “The surgeons had no choice but to cut away half of my skull. I now have a titanium plate instead.”
Dean was now facing a long and uphill struggle to battle back from the injuries that had shattered his dreams. After time in both the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court, Dean was moved to the Brain Injury Rehab Trust (BIRT). He was also supported by an army Personnel Recovery Officer who introduced him to Help for Heroes.
When Dean visited the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Catterick he was excited to discover the Charity offered a Sports Recovery Programme: “Discovering I could take part in sport with Help for Heroes is one of the things that really helped me rebuild my life.”
What started as a spark of excitement on his first visit to the Recovery Centre has turned into a new passion and purpose for Dean. The staff were so impressed with Dean’s attitude they asked him to join the gym team once he’d passed his fitness qualifications: “I like to think that when lads come in and see me and hear my story it gives them some hope. I am so lucky that I get to see people rebuilding their lives like I once did.”
Dean has also taken taken on countless iron man competitions and, in September 2015, completed the world’s hardest triathlon – the Arch to Arc, which was organised by Help for Heroes: “Before being blown up I struggled to swim 25 metres, I scraped through my swim test and now, well, I faced jellyfish, freezing waters and swam the channel.”
Despite all he has sacrificed Dean is glad he signed up, saying: “I am proud of my service and sacrifice. At heart, I will always be a Paratrooper.”