Justin, 42, is happier these days than he has ever been; he’s just completed his second Big Battlefield Bike Ride, he won a silver medal at the Warrior Games 2017 for cycling, and he’s raised more than £30,000 for Help for Heroes. Much of his fundraising has been done peddling for miles on a static bike in Moto Wetherby services. “The public always ask my story and generally people are more generous if you’re actually seen to be doing something.”
Only five years ago Justin hated cycling: “I would have laughed at you if you’d told me what I would be doing now. Despite being in the Army for 17 years, I was always picked last for team sports.”
Justin was a Sergeant in the Royal Logistic Corps until a freak accident in 2012 where he bent down and shattered his spine, causing him to lose all mobility. He had two failed operations to fix this before doctors offered him a lower spinal stabilisation prosthetic procedure with only a 20% chance of success. Feeling he had nothing to lose, Justin decided to try – and the risk paid off. However, due to the amount of metal work in his back, a military career was no longer an option. “I knew straight away that my career was over. It was very hard; all I could think was ‘what will I do now?’
“Compared to others, my acceptance was relatively quick and I had amazing support from my wife – she held us both, was strong for both of us, and still is. They say that soldiers are heroes but for me it’s the people behind them who are the real heroes – like my wife Sam”
After his operation, Justin went from being in a wheelchair to walking in just 10 months. “The doctors were amazed by how quickly I did it. That first day in intensive care I asked them to take away my wheelchair and I’ve not been back in once since.”
Justin received a kit bag from the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers. “I hadn’t heard of them before and, because I was stationed in Germany when I was injured, I felt quite out of everything. Being invited to be part of a unique group was amazing. Within the Fellowship you have people you can talk to who understand.”
In 2013, six months after his final operation, Justin was sent to the Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick. He went through the centre as a solider, doing Army-led transition courses, and was medically discharged on 31 December 2013. As luck would have it, Phoenix House needed someone to work front of house and Justin jumped at the opportunity.
“I started to work for Help for Heroes two days a week, and then upped this as I grew stronger. I now do four days a week, which is enough, and the rest of my time is taken up by training or fundraising.
“Having gone through the recovery process myself, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I want to raise lots of money so other people can benefit the way I have. Because I work at Phoenix House I see first hand what the money can do, and by fundraising I get to know that – in a small way – I’ve helped.
“I wore a Help for Heroes wristband 10 years ago, and had a car sticker, but I never imagined I’d need support. None of us do. It’s a life-saving and life-changing charity, and it’s the best thing in the world to be part of.”