It was a new Pathfinder course for Help For Heroes up in Colchester. I got the train up late Tuesday evening. I arrived and got in a taxi with which the driver gave me a quick history lesson on how Colchester has changed over the last 10 years. I always find out something new about my former base town. When I arrived, it was late and everything has closed so I took myself straight to bed and read a book until it was time to turn out the lights. I awoke early Wednesday morning as I wanted to rehearse my speech. It was different from the last time. I had learnt a little more about how to string together sentences so that my speeches had a better structure. I was excited to see how it would go down with the veterans.
I saw Matt (my H4H contact) at breakfast and we discussed the day’s plans. We were off back to Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve. One group were to clear and cut wood whilst another group had somewhat of a rescue mission to carry out… dig in the huge sandpit to find plastic fossils that the kids had buried a few weeks before and actually had forgotten where they buried them?! Finally, a 3rd group had to herd sheep from one area to another. This task was carried out by two Afghan interpreters; two amazing people that I will tell you more about shortly.
I was part of the group that was to dig in the sandpit. I have to confess I didn’t find a single plastic fossil but everyone else did! I was reminded of this fact a few times throughout the rest of the day lol. Lunchtime came around and we headed for the cafe. The cafe had an amazing selection of home jams, marmalade, and other various condiments to go with an huge choice of cakes. I passed on the chance of eating those on this occasion but I did love the taste of the fresh coffee. We set up camp in the park on a couple of benches and ate lunch. It was time for my speech.
I love speaking to these guys and ladies about it because they can relate to it so much; the struggles they feel in their own lives. I opened with a famous quote from Winston Churchill about beginnings and endings and that it is all relative, which set the scene for the rest of my speech. The aim was to allow these troops to follow my own journey through life, as I described some of the incredible lows and also fantastic highs I have experienced. It means it can be quite emotional, for me and my audience, but the aim is to leave them on a high, to make them realise that there are better times ahead. I have been through rough times but have risen to the challenge and have now progressed in my career and in all parts of my life; I have a more positive and healthy lifestyle and I always want my audience to walk away with the feeling of “Yes I can!”.
Once lunch was complete, we moved off for the last hour to finish our jobs, but this time I found myself sat with the two Afghan guys. They both had serious injuries from service in Afghanistan; one was paraplegic and the other was on crutches because of a severe injury to his legs. We chatted about life, how they became injured and what they wanted to do in the future. I was blown away by their courage; they both had an idea of what they wanted to do in life. I was so happy for them; one of them mentioned to me that the chap on the crutches had had a smile on his face for most of the day, for the first time in 4 years. They are the real heroes and it was a pleasure talking to them.
The day came to an end and I thanked the veterans and one of the staff, Russel Lewis. I would love to one day write up my story into a book, and Russel said he would be delighted to help me, he himself having written a book called “Company Commander”. Hiking Everest and the incredible people I have met (and will meet) on the way would form a huge part of it. So, here I am on the train home, writing this with a big smile on my face having had another great day meeting a fantastic group of people. Until next time…