Being part of a team and representing my country was something I thought I’d lost forever. It was the greatest week of my life.
Help for Heroes ambassador JJ Chalmers joined the Royal Marines Reserve in 2005 while at university, transferring to regular service in 2010.
A year later, he was serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when he suffered life-changing injuries from an IED blast. JJ lost two fingers and suffered facial and leg injuries in the incident, and his right elbow was badly damaged.
JJ said: "I woke up a week later in hospital, in Birmingham. My hands were smashed up, my arm was sewn into my stomach and I felt like I’d never walk again. I couldn’t imagine going home. When I finally did, I had no idea how to live or what I could do that I’d care about as much as the Marines, which was everything to me.”
His recovery has seen many operations including one where doctors took muscle lining from his leg and used it to replace a severed tendon in his tricep. He also had his arm grafted to his stomach for a while to keep it supplied with blood while doctors tried to repair the joint with titanium.
“The road to recovery doesn’t go in one straight line. Every time you take a step forward you suffer a knock back. However, when you get over that set back you find yourself further forward than ever before and Help for Heroes keeps answering the call to help with that.”
After undergoing facial reconstruction, and surgery on his eye and legs, JJ spent time at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House.
Later, JJ was part of Team UK at the inaugural Invictus Games in London, winning medals in cycling and on the track on a bike grant-funded by Help for Heroes.
“Being part of a team and representing my country was something I thought I’d lost forever. It was the greatest week of my life. I was honoured to Captain the Trike Cycling team, a team made up of recumbent and hand cyclists, which brought home eight medals. I personally won a gold and bronze for recumbent cycling and also a bronze in the 4x100m track."
After getting a glimpse into the world of media and broadcasting at the Invictus Games and watching the Paralympics at London 2012, JJ decided to pursue a career in presenting.
“The athletes I’ve had the opportunity to interview over the years, whether it be established Paralympic athletes who took part in 2012 or the lads coming through from Help for Heroes, are unbelievable. Watching the London 2012 Paralympics made me proud to be disabled. My recovery has shown me the world is full of truly awesome people. It’s my dream and ambition to have the opportunity to tell their stories.”
JJ has gone on to present National Paralympic Day for Channel 4 as well as an online show for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha. Four years on from being inspired by the Invictus and Paralympic Games, he presented again for Channel 4 – this time on their coverage of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
“Being a Royal Marine Commando was the greatest job in the world. My next career needed to be something I love doing and would make me want to get out of bed in the morning. It’s got to be something that makes me want to give everything I’ve got and presenting is that.”
Now, JJ is embarking on a new challenge. The veteran and Help for Heroes ambassador will be appearing, sequin-clad, on Strictly Come Dancing as part of the celebrity line-up for 2020. Good luck JJ from all of us at Help for Heroes!
Injured veterans like JJ Chalmers need us now more than ever. Join us and find out the many ways in which you can give support today such as fundraising and donating. #StrongerTogether.
If you are a wounded veteran or loved one looking for support or advice, find out more about the many ways in which you can get support.