War hero James Rose has never stopped fighting since losing both legs in Afghanistan and is now ready to rise to his greatest challenge.
The 31-year-old, who has also battled post-traumatic stress, has waged an inspiring campaign to recover his fitness.
And his efforts were recognised when he was selected to join Team GB at Prince Harry ’s Invictus Games in Sydney last year – winning silver and bronze medals in the sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
Now he is setting his sights higher with plans to conquer Africa’s highest mountain, thanks to support from the Sunday People and TV tycoon Duncan Bannatyne.
James aims to be the first double amputee military veteran to climb 19,308ft Kilimanjaro using prosthetic limbs.
And his training is being done under a free membership at a gym in one of Bannatyne’s health clubs, donated after the businessman and former serviceman threw his weight behind our Save Our Soldiers campaign.
James said: “I can’t thank Duncan and the Sunday People enough.
“When you go to the gym and work out it makes you feel like you can do anything in the world.
“It makes you feel like a completely different person.
“The impact on your mental health is just massive.
“When I first lost my legs I couldn’t see past my hospital bed. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do any of the outdoors activities I loved ever again.
“But fast-forward ten years and I’m about to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. “If you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything.”
James nearly died when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol with the Yorkshire Regiment in Helmand Province in 2009.
The former private, from Middlesbrough, lost both legs above the knee and his pelvis was shattered. James still suffers flashbacks of the moment he stepped on the IED and his right leg was blown clear off as he was thrown into the air.
He said: “My left leg was hanging on by bits of bone.
“At first I went into massive shock. I was screaming and shouting.
“Then when the shock settled the burning pain hit me. When I get flashbacks, I can still sense the smell of being blown up. It’s so vivid.”
James spent four and a half years in and out of the MoD’s rehabilitation centre at Headley Court in Birmingham before his medical discharge in 2014.
While he was at the facility, James rejected offers of counselling, insisting that he was fine.
It was girlfriend Naiomi Wise, who he married last year, who encouraged him to join their local rowing club.
And in 2016 he was spotted by talent scouts who invited him to join Team GB’s para development squad.
But he suffered a devastating setback in August that year when his boat capsized during training and he nearly drowned.
He tried to get back into rowing afterwards but could not shake off the fear of capsizing. So in 2017 he switched to hand-cycling.
But more trauma followed when James was knocked to the ground by a motorist while training for a 100-mile charity ride.
He was lucky to escape with only minor injuries – but the mental scars were worse.
“I was a nervous wreck,” he said. “It was after this happened that my PTSD got even worse and I finally decided to get help.” James went to the NHS and finally got the counselling he needed.
Crucially he has learned techniques for managing his PTSD symptoms.
He said: “I’d had all the symptoms of PTSD for years – the flashbacks, anger, getting upset over nothing, eating and drinking too much.
“But it was as if I was in denial. I just thought that this is how my life is now.”
James – whose weight ballooned from 10 stone to 17 stone while he struggled to cope – added: “The therapy I received helped lots but so has my training.
“Now anybody I meet who suffers from PTSD I say to them, ‘Just go to the gym.’”
Once his health was finally back on track, James decided to apply for the Invictus Games. He said: “Being in a team environment again was such a great feeling.
“It was such a fantastic experience and getting the medals was a bonus.
“I now play basketball for my local team, which I probably never would have done if I hadn’t gone to the Invictus Games.”
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