'When I lost both my legs, I knew life would never be the same ... but life is about looking forwards not backwards'
Stuart Robinson is one of seven military athletes at the Rio Summer Paralympic Games as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme.Stuart, who lost both his legs after a bomb blast in Afghanistan, tells AASMA DAY how wheelchair rugby has given him his life back and how he hopes Rio will inspire him for Tokyo 2020
Waking up in hospital and realising he had lost one of his legs and suffered a multitude of severe injuries, Stuart Robinson realised there was no way of turning back the clock, so the only way was to look forward.
Stuart, 34, who lives in Morecambe, explains: “My lowest point was waking up in hospital and realising I had these enormous injuries and that my life would never be the same again.
“But I realised there were two ways of looking at it and the positive way of seeing things was: ‘Yes I have these severe injuries, but I am still alive.’
“I am not the sort of person who lets a lot of things in life get me down, so I wanted to be positive for myself and my family and show them that life could still go on.
“Right from the start, I was determined to get walking again.”
Stuart, who is married to Amy and has son George, seven and one-year-old daughter Amelia, joined the RAF after studying a public services course at Lancaster and Morecambe College and was promoted to Corporal.
During his RAF career, he was deployed to Iraq four times and Afghanistan four times.
It was while Stuart was serving in Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan in February 2013 that he was blown up while on patrol.
Stuart, who remembers being in Afghanistan in February 2013 but nothing about the incident, only knows what others have told him about the harrowing ordeal.
Stuart was in the front passenger seat of the Jackal armoured vehicle when the vehicle drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
As the device went off under the wheel where Stuart was sitting, he took the full brunt of the blast.
Stuart explains: “I was ejected clear of the vehicle and was blown 20 to 30 feet away.
“The blast caused me to lose my left leg straight away.
“I landed face down and I must have tried to break my fall with my arms and this had resulted in me breaking my shoulder blades.”
Stuart’s injuries included fracturing his spine in 18 places, a shattered pelvis, a burst bladder, fractures to his sternum, shoulder and ribs.
Stuart says: “Where I was sat, I had a machine gun on the dashboard and when the device initiated, it blew the machine out of its mount and into my face, where it repeatedly hit me.
“This caused me to fracture my jaw, lose some teeth and split my tongue.”
Ruefully, Stuart adds: “My injuries were about as horrendous as you can get.”
Stuart was stabilised at Camp Bastion before being flown back to the UK for treatment.
He was in an induced coma until early April and when he did wake up, he says everything was a blur.
Stuart recalls: “The consultant told me about my injuries, but it did not really register at first.
“It was only when my wife told me again a few days later that it started sinking in.”
To compound Stuart’s shock at his injuries, he was then told that his badly damaged right leg wasn’t healing properly and he was offered the choice of keeping it or having it amputated.
Stuart recalls: “At first, my reaction was of course I wanted to keep my leg.
“But after talking things over with my consultant and my wife, I realised it made more sense to lose my leg.
“Doctors told me it would be 18 months to two years before I could even put weight on my leg, let alone start walking.
“My view was: ‘What has happened has happened’ and I did not want to wait another two years before learning to walk again.
“There was no point getting down about it. I just had to get on with it.
“My feeling was that I had been doing a dangerous job in a dangerous part of the world so I always knew life-changing injuries could happen.
“I think everyone thinks it won’t happen to them, but when it did happen to me, my philosophy was that I had to move on.
“It takes a while for the severity of the injuries to sink in, but once I had come to terms with what had happened, I began looking forwards rather than backwards.”
After getting out of hospital, Stuart went to Headley Court for rehabilitation over about two-and-a-half years.
Stuart is now up and about walking on prosthetic legs and when he is at home, he uses his wheelchair.
Stuart says: “Walking on prosthetic legs is quite a difficult technique to master, but once you have got it, it is like riding a bike.
“I realised the power of sport was very important in recovery, as not only does it get you off your backside and moving again, there are also all the benefits of working as a team and the social side of it.
“I did all the normal fitness sessions at Headley Court, but kept looking for what competitive sports were available for me.
“I found wheelchair rugby and as I played rugby before the accident, I realised this was a good opportunity to get back into the sport.”
Stuart competed in the 2014 Invictus Games and loved the sport. He explains: “It is a lot of hard work to go from sitting in a wheelchair to being physically active – but I loved it. I love the competitive side of the sport and interacting with other people.”
Stuart also took part in the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando and because of his shoulder injury, he now qualifies for the Paralympic version of wheelchair rugby.
Stuart, who is part of the GB Development Squad, is one of seven people chosen to be part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme thanks to charity Help For Heroes.
The programme, which first launched in London 2012, provides athletes with an experience of several days at a Paralympic Games.
It aims to provide developing athletes with knowledge which will prepare them for future games experience as a selected athlete.
Stuart says: “Sport is so enjoyable and gives you so many highs and lows.
“It has given me a direction and a reason for going out and training. I was massively pleased when I was told I was going to Rio.
“Winning a gold medal in the wheelchair rugby at the Invictus Games in 2014 only inspired me to push on and try and make something from sport.
“I have loved every minute of my sporting career so far and am always looking to push onto bigger and better.
“I am now part of the GB development squad and have a goal of making it into the elite squad and Tokyo 2020.
“My experience in Rio will serve as a further way in which to reach my long term goal of representing my country at a major international event.
“I hope to gain valuable knowledge and inspiration from watching the very best in the world compete.
“I would be over the moon if I could get to Tokyo 2020.”
Stuart says Amy has been a great support to him and he says he wants to achieve as much as he can in life to be an inspiration to his children.
Stuart says: “George was only three when the accident happened and has just taken it on the chin and he accepted it straight away and just got on with life.
“Amelia is a bit of a miracle as I was told I was unlikely to have another child but Amelia happened as soon as we started trying for a baby.
“My injuries haven’t really stopped me from doing anything, but sometimes you have to find different ways of doing things as I can’t always do things in the conventional way. For example, I can’t pick Amelia up and walk with her in my prosthetic legs just in case they malfunction.
“However, I can sit with her in my wheelchair.
“For me, if you want to achieve something in life, you should just go and do it.
“It is all about looking forwards instead of backwards.”
Jayne Kavanagh, performance pathway manager at Help For Heroes says: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to again be involved with such a unique initiative to enable our country’s wounded to experience the spirit of the Summer Paralympics at Rio thanks to our partners at the British Paralympic Association.
“It is our hope this experience will inspire our Paralympic Inspiration Programme athletes to dedicate themselves to their training in order to achieve their dreams of competing in future summer and winter Paralympic games.
“However, we also know sport plays a big part in the recovery journey providing a sense of confidence and purpose as well as improving general wellbeing.
“We encourage anyone that might want to try sport for the first time post injury to be inspired by these athletes and they too could find and experience the power of sport in their day-to-day lives.”
l The Paralympic Games will take place in Rio from September 7 to 18.