After a royal send-off by the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson this morning, a group of amputee and injured military veterans have set off on a confidence-building expedition of a lifetime, trekking in the Himalayas.
Organised by Pilgrim Bandits, the group will embark upon a twelve-day trek in the Himalayas to Namache (DZ), from 19th April – 2nd May. Four of the injured heroes will also be given the opportunity to attempt tandem skydive jumps over Mount Everest.
Those participating include double above-the-knee amputees and those that were not expected to survive as a result of the extensive injuries received on the battlefield, let alone to take on such a challenge. Also joining the group of veterans is an MND sufferer who has completely lost the use of his arms.
The operation will not only set out to show the veterans what they can achieve with a strong support network surrounding them, but also act as a fund and awareness raising event for Pilgrim Bandits – who organise gruelling expeditions for injured service and emergency personnel, many of whom are amputees or have PTSD. With a no sympathy approach, Pilgrim Bandits’ motto is ‘Always A Little Further’ – pushing veterans beyond what they thought was possible to build confidence.
Joining the expedition is former Lance Corporal Tyler Christopher, who was injured in Afghanistan in August 2009 after standing on an IED bomb, which resulted in the loss of both his legs above the knee. He has taken part in several Pilgrim Bandits expeditions including a 500-mile kayaking challenge down the Yukon River in Canada, cycling from John O’Groats to Lands’ End and taking on the charity’s Winter Survival Course in Sweden, trekking across inhospitable terrain and sleeping in snow holes at minus 20 degrees. Tyler said that Pilgrim Bandits had ‘massively’ helped him to realise that he can still do things he loved to do before his injury.
Army veteran, Dean Bousfield, will be among those taking part and is one of those invited to tandem jump over Mt. Everest. Dean joined the British Army in 2004 and served for nearly 10 years before he was badly injured in Afghanistan. He was shot in the head by a sniper and was incredibly lucky to survive. The bullet passed through his brain, exiting above his right ear: he is the only known survivor of a gunshot of this kind. In 2015, Dean made the difficult decision to have his left arm amputated due to paralysis from his brain injury.
Dean told us: “The charity [Pilgrim Bandits] pushes veterans both mentally and physically and that’s why most of us joined the military in the first place. Some of us have lost that sense of purpose that you get within the military and these challenges are a chance to prove something to ourselves. We can still do these “extreme” things and push ourselves, just like we used to do before our injuries.
“For me this challenge has given me that drive that I was missing. My wife will tell you that I am a different person since this all started. I have something to aim and push myself for.”
Double amputee, Hari Budha Magar, is a former Gurkha who was injured in Afghanistan losing both his legs, and another of the injured that will skydive over Mount Everest itself. Gearing himself up for the challenge, he commented: “I think I will be the first double above the knee amputee with Genium X3s to trek to EBC. Then skydive over Everest… I am super excited!”
CEO of Pilgrim Bandits, Matt Hellyer will be leading the expedition. He said: “We are so pleased to be able to get back out on life-changing expeditions with our injured veteran members – the pandemic made it difficult for us to arrange trips that really challenge and motivate those that we support who have been injured on the frontline. Our motto is ‘Always A Little Further,’ because we know that pushing our team physically and mentally – when they have already endured so much – sees them rise above and beyond. We don’t do sympathy, but we offer camaraderie, an adventure and we believe in the power of humour over pain. And we are going to need all of that to overcome such a challenging trek in the Himalayas. The reward will absolutely be to see the exhilaration on the faces of those taking on the Mt. Everest jumps too.
“It is thanks to our fantastic supporters that expeditions like this can happen and we would like to show our appreciation to all those that have continued to fundraise for us. We hope to continue raising awareness for the important work that the charity does, so that we can help more injured veterans in the coming months and years ahead.”