Doing what I did at Invictus gave me so much confidence and really spurred me on
Louis joined the military when he was just 17 and found being a Royal Marines Commando was not only something he was good at, it was something he loved. His commando unit and the lads he served with became his second family. His 10-year military career took him all over the globe, including Europe, India, America, Africa, Norway and the Middle and Far East.
However, looking back, it is the simple things he remembers most fondly: “Getting my green beret was great, so was coming back from Afghanistan. Obviously, returning from longer deployments and seeing my family was just brilliant. But, actually, my best memories are just being with the boys and looking after each other.”
The Marine’s mantra for looking out for each other would prove almost life-saving for Louis in the years following his deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 with 42 commando, where he was involved in some of the most intense combat on the Herrick 14 campaign.
The things he saw on that tour would leave a lasting mark on his mind, leading to the development of PTSD. He and the lads found themselves in the middle of “hell on earth” where they spent their days engaged in fire fights or trying to avoid the IEDs that had been buried in the ground on which they patrolling.
“There was a particularly bad incident where some lads got killed or seriously injured” Louis explained. “I saw some pretty bad stuff, some hairy situations. On coming home from that particular tour, things didn’t quite add up for me. Something had changed, and changed dramatically.
“It was a different world when I came back.”
Louis was eventually medically discharged in 2016 and said the transition into civilian life was not an easy one. His breakthrough moment came when he did the H4H Pathfinder Experience.
“I really struggled once I knew I wasn’t going to be able to continue serving in the Marines. It was something I still wanted to do; I didn’t want to become a civilian. It was hard to find a decent direction for myself and one that I was passionate about.
“That was where Pathfinder really helped. It broke my next steps into bite-sized chunks so I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. I used to set myself unrealistic goals and when I didn’t achieve them I’d become frustrated. Pathfinder changed that and I began to work towards what was attainable.
“Pathfinder is all about going forwards in whatever direction you choose, whether that be looking for a job or simply a new hobby. It gives you the confidence to aim for your passion and the tools to achieve it.
“I had a moment where I thought “what would 11-year-old Louis tell me to do?” The first answer was Rambo and I had already done that with the Marines. The next answer was an Explorer so that’s what I set my sights on.”
Now Louis, along with fellow ex-Marine Anthony Lambert, are aiming to set a new world record by traversing the world’s five largest islands on foot.
From equatorial jungles to the Arctic circle, barren deserts to snow capped mountains, Louis will push himself to the maximum of human endurance. If successful, Louis and Anthony will be the first men in history to cross Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Greenland, and Baffin Island. Help for Heroes have grant funded £10,000 for the expedition, the likes of which has never been attempted before.
The epic trek, named Expedition Five, will begin in Borneo in November and take approximately twelve months to complete. Louis and Anthony will be completely unsupported and will be relying on human power, survival skills and instinct only. They will carry their own food, water and equipment. After trekking 1400km through dense rainforest, they'll head to Papua New Guinea which is the second largest island on the planet at approximately 785,753 square kilometres.
They'll aim to go from north to south before heading to Madagascar, travelling east to west following the historical lighthouses scattered across the coastline.
Next they will attempt Greenland, officially the largest island in the world, where they could face temperatures of – 25 degrees. Their adventure will end with Baffin Island in Canada.
“We join the marines to challenge ourselves physically and mentally” Louis explained. “When I left, that challenge just disappeared. So I wanted to replace it with something I am passionate about. Expedition Five has given me that challenge and drive back.
“I am most excited about exploring parts of the world people may never have been to before. Also, just getting back to the simple thinks in life; appreciating water when you’re thirsty, food when you’re hungry and a bed when you’re tired.”
In a typically humble fashion Louis doesn’t consider himself to be ‘as smashed up as some of the guys who come into Tedworth House [a Help for Heroes Recovery Centre]’. He isn’t missing any limbs; he hasn’t sustained a gunshot wound; he doesn’t have a physical battle injury.
He explains: “Being able to come to Tedworth House is good for me because of the lads that are here – they understand. I think the sport stuff can really help as it keeps my head busy, keeps me fit and tests my body.”
In May 2016, Louis was selected to be the Mental Health Ambassador for the Invictus Games in Orlando. Standing in front of thousands of people, he talked about how his anxiety and mental struggles had affected his life.
“Doing what I did at Invictus gave me so much confidence and really spurred me on to do this challenge” he explained. “It was a massive platform and springboard for me and made me realise that anything is possible.
“Without any exaggeration, Help for Heroes have turned my life around. Without the focus, ambition and passion they gave me, I would be at a complete loss.”
Explaining one of his main motivations for tackling Expedition Five, Louis said: “It is so important to me to inspire other guys who have battled similar problems to me. I want to show everybody that despite experiencing a setback, life is not over if you don’t want it to be.
“It is about looking the dark days in the eye and saying you’ve come out the other end stronger.”Sign up to Pathfinder