From roadside bomb in Afghanistan to South Pole expedition: The incredible story of a Norfolk soldier who never gives up
PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 January 2013
Archant Norfolk 2013
Lying on the ground in a southern Afghanistan compound surrounded by a cloud of dust, Sgt Duncan Slater feared for his life.
He had been tossed 30ft up in the air before landing in the compound in Helmand Province after the armoured vehicle he was travelling in was blown up by a roadside bomb.
Struggling to move because of broken bones in his legs, arm and back, he had also lost all his weapons in the blast and was unable to defend himself.
As the chaos continued nearby, he had no choice but to treat his injuries and wait to be rescued while also trying to work out what had happened.
After being rescued following the July 2009 incident, Sgt Slater was flown back to the UK where he spent a year in a wheelchair while trying to walk again. Then in July 2010, the Diss man was given the heartbreaking news that his legs could not be saved and both needed to be amputated.
Sheer determination saw the 33-year-old walking on prosthetic limbs six weeks later and now he has started training to become the first double-amputee to reach the South Pole.
Dragging two heavy tyres across a snow-covered Brancaster beach on Saturday morning, he vowed to ensure he was part of a four-man British team to race other teams across Antarctica later this year.
Speaking exclusively to the EDP, Sgt Slater reflected on the incident in Afghanistan which cost him his legs.
He said: “The roadside bomb was dug in right underneath where I was sitting in the vehicle so I got the full brunt of it.
“It was horrible. I was completely away from everything and nobody knew where I was. As the dust cleared, I realised everything was blown off me so I had nothing to defend myself with and just had to wait.”
He continued: “After spending a year in a wheelchair, I was getting frustrated at not being able to walk so when I was told my legs needed to be amputated, it was an easy decision to make. Six weeks later, I was up and walking and since then, things have just got better and better.”
Sgt Slater was joined by other wounded soldiers from across the country at the North Norfolk beach all hoping to be part of the British team which will race fellow wounded soldiers from USA, Canada and Australia across Antarctica.
The Walking With The Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge is being billed as one of the most ambitious expeditions of modern times.
The 330km expedition across the Polar Plateau will take place under the patronage of Prince Harry in November and December.
Sgt Slater, a father-of-one, continued: “I had been sitting about not doing a great deal at home for a long period when my wife Kim found out about this expedition and suggested I go for it. So I applied for it and now I’m into the final six and I feel very lucky to have got this far.
“We will go to Iceland in March and then four of us will be picked to take part in this challenge and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m part of this.”
Sgt Slater added: “It’s going to be tough out there but that’s why we do all the training.
“If you can get your head around having to pull things along here, then you will be in a much better position out in Antarctica.
“I’ve got no doubts that we will win and I’m not having it that anyone will beat us.”
Holt resident and co-founder of the Walking With The Wounded charity, Edward Parker, is also taking part in the race to the South Pole.
The 47-year-old served as a soldier for 10 years and spent most of his time in Northern Ireland.
He was also a member of the charity’s successful expedition to the North Pole in 2011.
But while he joined in with the British team on Saturday, he will actually serve as a mentor to the US team whilst on the Antarctic ice.
Speaking before the British hopefuls began their trek from Brancaster to Holme, he said: “We trained here before we went to the North Pole last year because it’s nice and flat.
“We’ve got four leg amputees here so we don’t want to put them over too much broken ground because it would put a lot of stress on their stumps.
“We learnt a lot from the North Pole expedition which we can now put into practice with this expedition. One thing is for sure, it will be hard work for them out there. What we will have to ensure is that their stumps remain whole. As soon as there is any abrasion or blister, the danger of infection is very high.”
With up to 14 hours of walking for the teams each day, Mr Parker said it was important for participants to put in the effort during training sessions.
He continued: “Living in Antarctica is very tough. It sounds obvious but it’s constantly cold and you can’t escape it.
“You’ve got to look after yourself well, you’ve got to feed well because you burn a huge amount of calories during the day, and the danger of frostbite is very high. It’s also a very unpleasant place even though it is very beautiful.
“You don’t fight against it, you have to work with it to make sure you stay safe...
“It’s good that it does have a competition element but we have to be careful.”