Spartans we train all we train the strong the weak, the able, disabled and those with courage.
Michael Cohen, head Coach
True grit: Astonishing courage of Afghan bomb blast soldier who lost both legs as he trains to take part in challenge dubbed ‘the obstacle race from hell’
- Lance Bombardier James Simpson is taking part in ‘obstacle race from hell’
- He will be first double amputee to undertake gruelling Spartan Race
- The 27-year-old lost legs to IED in Helmand, Afghanistan
PUBLISHED: 00:16, 5 August 2013
Muddy hell: Lance Bombardier Simpson will face 25 obstacles as part of the extreme endurance challenge
A soldier who lost both his legs in a explosion in Afghanistan has been described as an inspiration by the organisers of an extreme challenge dubbed ‘the obstacle race from hell’.
Lance Bombardier James Simpson, 27, is set to be the first double amputee to take part in a Spartan Race event.
Spartan Race is an open country run punctuated with a range of punishing, surprise obstacles – from mud crawls and ice-pit plunges to cargo-net climbs and fire-log leaps.
Organisers describe it as ‘an event of pure, primitive craziness’.
L/Bdr Simpson, from Rawdon, near Leeds, was serving with 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery when he stepped on an improvised explosive device as he returned from a foot patrol in Helmand.
He lost both his legs above the knee and also damaged both his arms in the blast in November 2009.
Now he is training for Spartan Race in woods close to his West Yorkshire home where he is trying to match his different prosthetics with the terrain and obstacles the event will throw at him.
He has been using his running blades – shortened versions of those used by Paralympics track athletes – and what he calls his stubbies, which are small pads that fit on the bottom of what is left of his thighs.
L/Bdr Simpson said he plans to carry both at the event next month and swap them when necessary using just an Allen key.
‘It’s going to be a challenge,’ he said.
‘It’s not so much the run I’m really worried about, it’s getting over the obstacles.
‘I’m going to be a lot shorter because of my blades. I’m going to have to rely on my arms and my legs.’
He said: ‘I want every step to be my own. I don’t want to rely on my team to get me over obstacles.
‘I want to get over an obstacle, if it takes 10 minutes or if it takes 30 seconds, I’m going to get over each obstacle by myself.
‘Even if I change my feet and then, halfway through the obstacle, I have to change back, I’m going to get across every obstacle.’
Almost as soon as L/Bdr Simpson arrived at the special military wing at Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital following his devastating injuries three years ago, he began to plan how he was going to walk again.
But despite quickly mastering his prosthetic legs with the help of the Army’s rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, in Surrey, it was only earlier this year that he decided that he wanted to start running properly again.
He said he took the decision after agreeing to run in a 1500m race at the Warrior Games for injured servicemen in the United States and surprising himself with how much he enjoyed it.
‘My first challenge was to walk again, not run around an assault course with loads of mud,’ he said.
‘I gave myself a few months to do that and then, when I achieved that, I never really focused on running much.
‘Running’s only something I’ve started doing seriously this year.
‘Then I saw some pictures of some of my friends who did a Spartan Race in America and I was, like “I want to give that a bash”.’
He added: ‘My family knows me really well and if I told them I was going to climb Everest, they’d be, like “Well, don’t do it on Tuesday because we’re having a dinner”.
‘Nothing shocks them now. Nothing really shocks them at all.’
L/Bdr Simpson is starting with the Spartan York Sprint which is taking place on September 8 near Ripon, North Yorkshire, and features more than 25 obstacles over a 5km course.
This is the shortest version of Spartan Race, which is held in various formats up to the ‘obstacle race from hell’ Spartan Beast.
Head Spartan coach Michael Cohen has been helping him prepare for the obstacles he will face.
Mr Cohen said: ‘I’m over the moon to have the opportunity to work with him and give him the skills so he can actually complete a Spartan Race.
Unbowed: Lance Bombardier Simpson of the Royal Artillery in action in Afghanistan (left). He has refused to let his injuries limit what he can do
‘He’s coming to undulating terrain, he’s coming to muddy, wet, slippery slopes. He’s pushing his boundaries. It’s great. I feel inspired.’
Race director of Spartan Race UK former Royal Marines Commando Richard Lee said: ‘James’s inspirational example is very moving.
‘By enrolling in his first Spartan Race, he is showing great courage and setting a new British record by becoming our first double amputee to run a UK Spartan Race.
‘He is a perfect example of what we stand for at Spartan Race. Overcoming obstacles is part of our everyday life. No one gives you a map, no one tells you what challenges lie ahead, but somehow we overcome them and grow stronger.’
Spartan Race – named after the fearless Ancient Greek warriors – is organising seven races across the UK this summer with an expected 40,000 UK entrants.
Obstacles are kept secret to surprise racers, but they can include 15-foot rope climbs, slippery 7ft ramps, sandbag carries, barbed-wire mud crawls, 25-foot-high cargo nets and clambers through semi-submerged drainage tunnels.
L/Bdr Simpson, who is leaving the Army in September to become a student, is hoping his participation will raise money for the national armed forces charity SSAFA.