Photo gallery: Double amputee Duncan celebrates with Prince Harry after awe-inspiring trek to the South Pole

Walking with the Wounded: South Pole expedition. Pictured: Duncan Slater, who lives in Scole near Diss, became the first double amputee to reach the pole. Walking with the Wounded: South Pole expedition. Pictured: Duncan Slater, who lives in Scole near Diss, became the first double amputee to reach the pole.

Monday, December 16, 2013
6:30 AM

A serviceman who was told he may never walk again after losing both legs in a bomb blast has become the first double amputee to ski to the South Pole – part of an inspirational expedition organised by a Norfolk-based charity.

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Walking with the Wounded

Walking With The Wounded, based at Stody near Melton Constable, was founded in 2010 to raise funds for programs which help injured servicemen and women to find long-term employment following their military careers.

The charity has already raised more than £2.5m with expeditions such as the South Pole Allied Challenge, under the patronage of Prince Harry, helping to raise the profile and boost the fundraising.

Expedition director Ed Parker co-founded the charity with Simon Daglish in 2010 after his nephew was severely injured, losing both of his legs.

Having spent 10 years in the army, Mr Parker moved to Norfolk in 2003 and now lives in Wood Dalling, near Reepham, with his wife Harriet and three children.

After reaching the South Pole himself, he said he was “relieved, quite knackered and very excited to be coming home for Christmas”.

He said: “It is very exciting to be part of something like this. But the expedition is not just about the individuals taking part. For them it is an extraordinary experience which we hope will be life-changing and life-forming. But we want to reach out to a much wider audience.

“Whether they are military or civilian, people can get injured or find themselves in a dark place, but this proves that you can challenge yourself and look to the future and achieve extraordinary things. You don’t have to come to the South Pole. You can set your own goals.”

The South Pole challenge was the third expedition staged by Walking With The Wounded, following Everest 2012 and North Pole 2011.

Mr Parker said he would begin planning the charity’s next venture in the New Year. He said he could not yet confirm the destination, only that it would be “somewhere hot”.

Accompanied by their Royal patron Prince Harry, the adventurers, including four injured British soldiers, successfully reached the bottom of the world on Friday, after more than two weeks pulling sleds across the bleak frozen wastes of Antarctica.

The challenge was organised by Walking with the Wounded, a military charity based in Stody, near Melton Constable.

Those who endured 335km of punishing terrain and temperatures as low as -45 degrees to reach the geographical pole included charity co-founder Ed Parker, who lives in Wood Dalling, and Guy Disney, who lost a leg while serving with the Swanton Morley-based Light Dragoons.

And Prince Harry’s UK team also contained former RAF Regiment gunner Sgt Duncan Slater, a 34-year-old Scot from Inverness who moved to Scole, near Diss, while recovering from the horrific injuries he suffered in Afghanistan in 2009.

After being wounded by a roadside bomb in Helmand, he spent a year in a wheelchair before doctors told him he would need to have both his legs amputated.

Having defied the odds to reach the pole, he said he was looking forward to the long journey home to Norfolk, where he will be reunited with his wife Kim and three-year-old daughter Lilly on December 23.

Speaking to the EDP on a satellite phone from a camp 20km from the South Pole, Sgt Slater said: “I am chuffed to bits to be given the opportunity to do this, but it was a team effort.

“I cannot wait to get home just in time for Christmas. One of my first motivations was my wife and my little girl. They stood by me all the way after getting injured, and I wanted to prove to them that I was back too my old self, just minus two legs.

“One of the other motivations I had was that a lot of the guys who come back from theatre (of operations) are injured a lot worse than I am, so I just wanted to make the best of my situation and show people that we are not just sitting about, and we are willing to push ourselves as much as we can. If that raises money for people who need it, then it is a great way of motivating yourself. It stops you feeling sorry for yourself.

“In the last year we have done a lot of talks at schools and businesses and I’ve been surprised by the people I’ve met and the support that we get.

“Even when it was -45 degrees and not very nice, I thought there was no way that I could let those people down by not finishing. I have walked through Diss High Street and got old ladies coming up to me and saying ‘good luck’, so there was no way I could stop.”

Sgt Slater completed the trek using robust custom-made prosthetics, with special insulation to stop the extreme cold being absorbed by his upper legs.

But the terrain was made more difficult by “sastrugi” – sharp, irregular ridges eroded into the ice by the preceding Antarctic winter. Those harsh conditions forced the cancellation of a competitive race element of the journey, with the three international teams instead uniting to finish as one group.

Sgt Slater said: “The sastrugi was three feet high. It was the worst they had seen in years and years. It was like trying to ski across a building site, and it was very hard on the legs. But you just have to suck it up and get on with it.

“The prosthetics held up very well. We had a day out here when it was -45 and you do feel the pinch at that sort of temperature. My insulation worked well, so I didn’t suffer from the cold in that way. I did get cold hands like everyone else, but not cold feet!

Sgt Slater said his next challenge could be a first attempt at the London Marathon in spring.

“One thing I have always thought is that people take it hard when they get injured, but it has opened up so many doors for me,” he said. “Some of them closed, as I was not able to carry on in the military, which was heartbreaking. But then you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this, which I would never have had if I had not been blown up. Everything happens for a reason, and I’ve been very lucky.

“It sounds cheesy, but if you’ve been injured it does not have to be the end of everything. I promise you this – if I can do it, there are scores of people out there who can do it better than I can.”

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