UK's most injured serviceman Ben Parkinson on how he plans to live 'best life possible'
He is often described as inspirational, but to Ben Parkinson, the most severely injured UK serviceman to survive the Afghanistan conflict, it is those who surrounded him at his time of need, who are the “best and bravest” and who inspired him to recover.
For them, he says, he will make the “best and most useful life possible”.
Lance Bombardier Parkinson, 34, of Bessacarr in Doncaster, lost both legs and suffered brain damage when the armoured Land Rover he was travelling in hit a mine in Helmand Province in September 2006.
He was not expected to survive, but he did. He was told he would never walk or speak again but again, he did, defying doctors.
His injuries still affect him, particularly short-term memory problems, but his drive and determination is the same as it ever was, if not, amplified.
“I think the only thing that has changed is how lucky I see myself as,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“When you spend years in hospital like I did, you realise just how many disabled people there are, people that you didn’t see before.
“I had 22 unbelievable years before and lots to come, but I see little ones who never got that chance.
“I’m also lucky coming from Yorkshire, particularly Doncaster. The people have supported me from my first day home. Everywhere I go people talk to me, not like a stranger, but like an old mate. It’s not like that for all the injured guys.”
While some may say disability shaped them, change, for L/Bombardier Parkinson, came before his accident – when he joined the army at 16.
“I was so laid back before, I never finished things and took the easy route,” he said. “The army changed that. You have to do your best because you do it for your mates and your regiment.
“When it happened I had to say, do I let this ruin the rest of my life or do I crack on? Nothing can make it not have happened, so it’s a no brainer isn’t it?
“Then so many people told my family, and later me, what I couldn’t do and what I would never be able to do so I decided I’d prove them all wrong.
“You should never let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Only you can decide.”
After the accident, L/Bombardier Parkinson’s army career as he knew it came to an end.
“Everything changed and nothing changed,” he said, but he was “determined not to start watching daytime TV and playing computer games in my room”.
“I want to do the same things because I’m the same person,” he said. I want to push myself physically, to travel, to meet people. I just do things in a different way. I find the same things funny, I still enjoy the same food. I’m still a Para.”
He is involved with the charity Pilgrim Bandits, which was founded by a group of Special Forces veterans in 2007.
He has undertaken a series of challenges, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a 90-mile kayak in France, a trek through the Arctic, and cycling across New Zealand. He was awarded an MBE in 2015, carried the Olympic torch in 2012 and last year became a Freeman of Doncaster.
He also works with veterans and visits primary schools, where children are “never shy” in asking him questions.
“They talk about me having ‘robot legs’ as if it’s the most natural thing,” he said.
“Lots of the lads don’t feel they can get involved. If their injuries aren’t visible or if they just don’t feel they can get out amongst people.
“I’m not like that, so it’s important I do what I can to help those who can’t.”
“And there is still much we wants to achieve.
“I expect to leave the army soon and then I want to do far more locally. There are so many people who need help than I ever imagined.”