TEN YEARS ON: The incredible journey of Doncaster's humble hero Ben Parkinson
Ten years ago this month the life of Doncaster soldier Ben Parkinson was changed forever when he was blown up by an anti-tank landmine while serving in Afghanistan.
Exactly a decade ago it looked unlikely that Ben would ever wake up.
In the days after the armoured Land Rover he was travelling in hit a mine in Helmand Province, doctors told the family to prepare for the worst.
Ben had broken every single rib, his spleen was ruptured and with his legs so badly damaged surgeons had no option but to remove both above the knee.
His body, which sustained around 40 injuries in total, was shattered and no one knew what damage had been done to his brain, but as he lay in a coma for more than three months doctors said his prognosis was poor.
But he pulled through that, just as he proved medics wrong when they said he may never be able to talk and walk again.
Despite this, Ben says he does not believe his recovery has been that remarkable.
He said: “I just did what anyone would do. What would you do if someone says you will always be a vegetable.
“Would you think okay I’m happy with just being vegetable? No, you wouldn’t. Same with walking.
“I don’t want to prove people wrong, I don’t care what people tell me I can do, I know what I can do.”
In the decade since the 32-year-old became the country’s most injured surviving serviceman, Ben’s bravery, fortitude and dedication to fundraising for fellow soldiers has made him an inspiration to people up and
down the country.
During that time not only has he defied all medical expectations in order to be able to walk and talk again; but he has also completed 28 parachute jumps as well as fundraising expeditions all over the world which has helped him to raise around £1million to help other soldiers with life-changing injuries through the charity Pilgrim Bandits, for which he is the ambassador.
Of the many parachute jumps he has done, Ben says his favourite was the one in Dubai.
He said: “In Britain the best thing you might see is a tree or a field, but in Dubai it looked like you were on top of the world when you jumped. And then you came down to a tropical island. It was amazing.”
Reflecting on his remarkable journey, Ben says one of his proudest moments came during the Olympic Torch relay through Doncaster in 2012, when thousands watched on as he carried the torch through past the cenotaph in the town centre on his prosthetic legs.
For many it was one of the most iconic moments of the games, but Ben says it wasn’t his part in the relay, which he completed without the use of his crutches, that made him the most proud - it was the fact he was
able to do it with dozens of fellow soldiers from his regiment walking along side him.
Ben’s devoted mother, Diane Dernie explains how on the day of the relay through Doncaster, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) Ben was told that a small number of soldiers from his regiment the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery unit would be able to show up to support him but they were told they would not be able to come in uniform.
Despite this, three coach loads turned-up all proudly wearing their uniforms.
He was also told that he would have to complete his leg of the relay in his wheelchair.
“I said you can have the torch back when they told me that,” jokes Ben.
LOCOG then said Ben would be allowed to walk on his prosthetic legs, but instead of reaching a specific point before passing the torch on, the committee told him he would be allowed to get as far as he could in three minutes and then handover.
“Because far, far more people came out to see Ben than they expected the police told LOCOG they would have to let Ben do the full length because if they didn’t there would be a riot,” said Diane.
She added: “They said it was a matter of public order.”
And because of the size of the crowds Ben’s squadron was told to walk the distance with him - which took around 30 minutes in total - for security purposes.
Ben said: “Having them there with me is what makes me the most proud.”
Among the expeditions Ben has completed is a 90-mile kayak up the Gironde River in France and a trek through the Arctic. Last year he joined five other ex-soldiers in kayaking down a stretch of the Yukon River in Canadian Alaska.
The fundraising challenges he has completed would be a test of endurance for even the fittest of people, but none of them have phased Ben who strives to never be defined or held back by his injuries.
Ben’s humility extends to his fundraising too, which he says he believes ‘anyone would do’ in his position.
And that humility has also served him well when being introduced to the Royal Family and scores of celebrities over the years, all of whom have all been in awe of Ben’s bravery.
He says the most interesting person he has met is Mike Tyson, who in 2009 met Ben at the The Dome during a tour of the country with Frank Bruno.
He gave Ben his heavyweight boxing belt, which has been tried on by hundreds of children across Doncaster during Ben’s school visits and it is one of Ben’s most prized possessions.
Ben said: “He didn’t have to give me that belt but he did. He’s a nice man.”
Another of Ben’s favourite celebrities is Rod Stewart who he has met several times at The Sun’s Military Awards - The Millies.
He said: “He had these crazy shoes on and I said to him ‘I want those shoes!’
“Rod came over and put his shoes on my chair and I put them on my stumps!”
Joking about when he met The Queen when he was awarded an MBE, Ben said: “When she was coming along the line and asking everyone about themselves, my mum told her about me being blown up in Afghanistan and she said splendid!”
Moving forwards, Ben says his main goal for the next 10 years is to continue his journey to recovery and with his fundraising.