Britain’s most injured soldier, Ben Parkinson, continues to move mountains 15 years on from being told he wouldn’t survive. The Pilgrim Bandits’ patron and former British paratrooper conquered Pen y Fan on 16 September.
He took on the challenge to mark his 15-year anniversary since becoming one of the most seriously injured soldiers to survive the Afghanistan conflict. Joining him on the challenge was an ex-firefighter with MND, John Chart, who has lost the use of his arms and police officer, Laurence East, who has stage four cancer.
A group of former military and emergency service personnel, with their own injuries and mental health conditions as a result of the traumas they have faced on duty, helped the trio to reach the top of the highest peak in southern Wales.
Ben lost both legs and suffered brain damage while serving in Afghanistan in 2006.
He was not expected to survive, let alone speak or walk again. But his determination and tenacity meant he defied these odds.
Over the years, Ben has taken part in many expeditions organised by New Milton-based Pilgrim Bandits – a military charity that supports injured and amputee veterans by inviting them to take part in physically demanding expeditions that push them to their limits, helping them to enjoy life again and see just what they are capable of.
The Pen y Fan event was organised for members of the Curtis Palmer Program, a branch of the Pilgrim Bandits charity, that supports emergency services personnel that have also suffered life-changing injuries or are living with mental health conditions, such as PTSD and anxiety as a result of the trauma they have faced on duty. Headed up by Thames Valley Police’s Inspector Isherwood, the program members helped Ben, John and Laurence to reach the top of the summit as part of their own recovery programme.
Previously, Ben became the first double amputee to cross the Hardanger Plateau in Norway and one of the few to conquer the mighty Yukon River in Canada. More recently, he took on the charity’s Winter Survival Course in Sweden, trekking across inhospitable terrain and sleeping in snow holes at minus 20 degrees, and conquered a 1,000-mile bike ride across the country alongside 10 other amputee veterans – in support of John Chart who had set himself the mammoth challenge after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
Ben didn’t think twice about taking on the challenge. Ahead of the event, in a nod to his former military background and the support Ben has received from the charity over the years, he said: “Pen y Fan is very important to ‘Paras’, it’s known as the Fan Dance. And, the first time I was ever contacted by the Pilgrim Bandits it was with an invitation to ‘fan dance with the Pilgrims’. It will be far harder for the support team than for me. When we cross the water-ways they’ve got to carry me and the wheelchair and I’m not small. I’ll just keep pushing the gears.
“It’s been 15 years, when people didn’t think I would even survive 15 days. I’ll never stop doing things that people say are impossible and now I’ve got Ish [Inspector Isherwood] and the Curtis Palmer Program supporting me, I’ll get to the top.”
Curtis Palmer Program National Lead, Inspector Isherwood commented: “Ben climbed Pen y Fan prior to his injuries, but hadn’t since and we knew this challenge meant a lot to him – as it did to all those taking part. Emergency service personnel who are part of the Curtis Palmer Program, many of whom themselves are struggling with physical and mental health illnesses, worked together to reach the summit. It was all about teamwork. All those taking part had their own mountain to climb as well as the actual mountain – and we believe that a big part of their healing process is in helping others. It was a privilege to lead this group of inspirational individuals to the very top. We are all beyond proud of them.”
Earlier in the week, ex-firefighter and MND warrior, John Chart also conquered Mount Snowdon with the support of the Curtis Palmer Program. John was just 48-years-old when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in July 2019; a fatal and incurable neurodegenerative disease, with a life expectancy of three to five years of symptom onset. Unfortunately, John no longer has the use of his arms, which affects his balance. Teamwork got him to the top on both occasions.
CEO of Pilgrim Bandits, Matt Hellyer from Poole, who climbed Pen y Fan himself as part of his SAS selection, said: “The charity’s motto is ‘Always A Little Further,’ because we know that pushing injured veterans and emergency service personnel physically and mentally – when they have already endured so much – sees them rise above and beyond. We don’t do sympathy, but we offer camaraderie, an adventure and we believe in the power of humour over pain. It is that mentality that helps the veterans and emergency service personnel we work with to keep pushing forward, not only in the challenges we set them, but in their day to day lives.”
You can take a look at all the action from the Pen y Fan climb over on the Pilgrim Bandits Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram feeds and via the Curtis Palmer Programme Facebook page. Donations can be made to Pilgrim Bandits.
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