Army veteran Mark’s life changed forever due to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in Afghanistan. Losing the use of his right arm, he became angry and frustrated – the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) triggered by the blast. But he’s rebuilt his strength, both physically and mentally, through the power of sport.
“On the day I was injured, I remember opening my eyes after being blown 30 feet after an IED blast. I couldn’t understand why the others were so far away from me.
“I lost the use of my right arm and I’ve suffered with PTSD since that day. The PTSD controls my life much more than not being able to use my arm, because I’ve always been determined to find a way to do things.
“After I was medically discharged, I taught adult training courses and worked as a nightclub doorman, but I wasn’t happy. I felt like I’d gone from being a leader to an overweight, fragile idiot who sat in a corner.
“I started working myself too hard and only sleeping for a few hours a week. When I wasn’t working, I was in the gym. My kids didn’t see me, I was depressed and eventually everything came crashing down. No matter how much I thought I was in control by pushing myself so hard, it wasn’t healthy and it put a massive strain on my relationships.
“Walking through the doors of Help for Heroes’ Catterick recovery centre changed everything. Not immediately – at first I was in the recovery centre gym so much that I was banned! I was angry and frustrated, until I realised I was using the gym as an outlet for my PTSD without actually dealing with it. Sometimes it’s harder to ask for help when you’re struggling more mentally than you are physically.
“But slowly, I started to open up. Steve, my case manager, knew exactly how to talk to me. He’s an army veteran too and always had the right words. And I met Dean, a Physical Development Coach who’d also been injured in Afghanistan and who worked in the gym. He helped me adapt my workouts as the way I’d been going at them, I’d been in danger of damaging my spine. And I could talk to Dean about whatever I was going through.
“One day, one of the Sports Development coaches suggested I do a personal training course to combine my teaching skills and my love of the gym. Help for Heroes funded the course and I’ve never looked back. Now I own my own personal training business, Mind Over Body. Help for Heroes also helped me find an amazing opportunity through the Prince’s Trust partnership, teaching unemployed young people about the mental and physical benefits of exercise.
“I still sleep badly and I can still get angry at times. And during the first lockdown I was scared - I can’t sit still for ten minutes, let alone months at a time! But I have the right support around me now and I know how to use exercise as an outlet in a healthy way. I know that Steve, and Dean, are always there if I need them.
“I’ve had to overcome a lot of personal stuff and it’s made me more resilient. But I couldn’t have achieved that resilience without Help for Heroes’ – and the public’s – support. Now, I feel both physically and mentally strong, I have a career I love and I’ve got my life back. I don’t believe there’s anything I can’t do!”
Mark has used his strength to go on to achieve amazing things. He won the World's Strongest Disabled Man competition in 2020 and Britain's Strongest Disabled Man in 2021. He then went on to win World's Strongest Disabled Man for a second time in 2021 with a 280kg deadlift, setting a new world record (with only 1 arm!). He also holds an impressive 3 adaptive Highland Games World Records!