I feel I have a second chance at life. I have been able to turn to Help for Heroes whenever I’ve needed emotional support.
Craig Preece was five and a half months into a six month tour of Afghanistan with the Royal Engineers in 2010 when his vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. Blown out of the vehicle, landing 20ft away, Craig looked down to see the horrific extent of his injuries.
“My right leg was hanging on by the skin and tendons. My left had rotated 90 degrees and the fibula bone had come out the bottom of my boot. I managed to tourniquet my legs and give myself morphine, before being casevaced to Camp Bastion. That’s where my new journey began.”
Constant, agonising pain in Craig’s right leg meant he took the decision to have it amputated. But with a prosthetic right leg and a very weak left one, he found himself worlds away from peak physical fitness as a soldier, and struggled just to walk properly.
Keeping fit and active, particular by running, had been a massive part of Craig’s life for as long as he could remember. He refused to let his injuries take that away from him. After learning to walk again he then accessed support from Help for Heroes to enable him to move forward in his recovery.
The Charity first assisted Craig with housing and car adaptations meaning he could return home to be with his family sooner after surgery. Taking up cycling as his condition improved, he received funding for a racing bike and other equipment. The sport is now a huge part of his recovery, giving him the independence and motivation to make the most of life.
Craig has gone on to compete in numerous cycling challenges and competitions, including Help for Heroes’ very own Hero Ride and the Invictus Games. In 2014 he won gold medals in the time trial and road race, returning for the 2016 Games in Orlando where he picked up two golds and a silver.
“I have got to a good level in cycling now, and that has been down to all the help and support I received from Help for Heroes. Invictus has been a springboard onto other things in life. Taking part in Hero Ride was all about giving something back to the Charity and all the people who’ve helped me.
“Leaving the house is crucial in recovery. Even if you don’t achieve what you want straight away, just getting out can be a big achievement. It means you’re on that ladder and you start climbing and goal setting.
“People can see the physical injuries guys have. But it’s also especially hard for those with mental health challenges who’ve got all their limbs and you can’t tell straight away.
“A lot of people might write you off with a ‘can’t do’ attitude, whereas for those in the military it’s always about having that ‘can do’ attitude. Get out and apply yourself – there’s support out there and there’s always something for you to do.”
Craig’s next challenge will see him take on one of the world’s toughest cycling challenges, Race Across America. Passing through 12 states, climbing over 170,000 feet and covering more than 0,000 miles in just seven days, he hopes to raise £100,000 with his team in aid of Help for Heroes.
Craig is relishing the challenge: “My goals and ambitions haven’t changed since I was injured, which is something I try to pass on to my kids. I always say to them if you try your hardest at something I’m happy. It doesn’t matter where you finish, you never give up.
“I feel I have a second chance at life. I have been able to turn to Help for Heroes whenever I’ve needed emotional support. They must be supported so they can still be there for Service Personnel and Veterans.”
Photo: Roger Keller