Former Royal Marine, Joe Townsend, was injured in 2008 after standing on an Improvised Explosive Device. Joe lost both of his legs in the blast and after 14 hours in surgery at Camp Bastion, he was flown back to the UK where he spent five weeks in a critical care ward.
“Hospital was really degrading for me. You go from being a Royal Marines Commando to like a new-born child. I didn’t really dwell on it and just concentrated on small goals like today I’m going to drink from a cup.”
Gradually these goals have grown and while Joe has faced over 50 operations to date, he was selected as part of Team GB at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, competing in the Triathlon. He has also completed many endurance races including the Bolton Iron Man and the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii!
“I was injured literally just as Help for Heroes was kind of being set up and it was through their support I tried sport for the first time after injury. They started a little fire.
I discovered that once you’re in a piece of sports equipment you’re free and your disability becomes irrelevant. I can go out with any of my able-bodied friends on the bike and to be fair I can leave them for dust. Your disability isn’t impairing you at that point and it’s a good feeling.”
The support provided to Joe forms part of Help for Heroes’ partnership with The British Paralympic Association and UK Sport to introduce military personnel to Paralympic Sport. His next challenge is taking on one of the world’s toughest endurance cycling events, the epic 3,081 mile Race Across America (RAAM). Starting in Oceanside, California competitors pass through 12 states, covering over 3,081 miles and climb in excess of 170,000 feet before finishing in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Having completed some of the toughest sporting challenges, I need to keep pushing myself. I raced the RAAM in 2012 which was phenomenal but incredibly tough. I have developed as a person and athlete since 2012 and I want to go back to America and smash the time we set ourselves back then.
Also I need a focus away from my sport of triathlon. Post Rio 2016 I wanted to do something for myself. Training for a 4-year cycle is incredibly hard, especially to keep motivated psychologically. RAAM will help me to realise why I do the sport and that’s because I love cycling, training and achieving. Sometimes you need to shake your environment up a little to remember this.
I want another taste of the military humour and camaraderie that can’t be found in civilian life. I need a top up of this every now and again to remind me of my background and how I operate as a person.”