Our client Andy Barlow has made incredible strides since he lost his leg fighting for his country in Afghanistan
At just 19 years of age, Andy Barlow took a small step on a rocky track and within seconds the life he knew disappeared forever, along with his left foot.
The gunner was with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers attached to 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment on his first tour of Afghanistan. His 12-strong unit was operating in 50C heat in the Kajaki Dam area of Helmand when they became trapped in an old Soviet minefield.
What happened next will be etched into Andy’s memory forever as he explains: “You don’t hear the bang, just the shockwave going through your body. I looked down and my foot had disappeared - then the pain kicked in.”
In spite of his injuries, Andy somehow managed to help his colleagues in the minefield, which led to him being awarded the George Medal for Gallantry. The story was such an inspirational one that it was turned into the award winning film Kajaki, which told the heroic tale of British soldiers embarking on a mission to save their trapped comrades.
For our client, the starting point of the rest of his life came when he was laid in a hospital bed days later, looking at a sheet covering his leg. He thought to himself: “I am faced with a choice - I either pull the sheet back and deal with reality or hide from it”. Andy has never hidden from anything in his life.
He was flown to hospital at Selly Oak, Birmingham, for more operations before being transferred to Headley Court, Surrey, to have a prosthetic leg fitted and to learn to walk again.
Andy didn’t find the transition into civilian life easy and is honest about the difficulties he faced: “The forces spend a lot to train you up, but they do not spend the same amount to transition you out”. He contacted our expert military team who helped him claim compensation for his injuries, negotiating a substantial settlement before it needed to go to court. This helped him look to the future with a new found confidence.
Don’t Quit, Do It
Before his injury, Andy was a keen rugby player and had always been a thrill seeker looking for his next challenge or obstacle to overcome. As part of his recovery he sailed across the Atlantic for the British Army Offshore Race Team, but it was skiing that really captured his imagination.
Andy had never skied before, but he took to it instantly, and as a member of the Combined Services Disabled Ski Team he took part in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 as part of the Paralympic Inspirational Programme. He is now aiming to represent his country at the Winter Paralympics in 2022 and would encourage anyone to give sport a try after a serious injury as it gives you a chance to “achieve something which you never imagined you could”.
Andy classes himself “as less-abled, not disabled” which is why he loves skilling as it’s “one of the few sports where disability is left at the bottom of the chair and success is made on the hill”.
With a passion for sport and exercise, Andy is a massive supporter of our Don’t Quit, Do It campaign which aims to get more people playing, watching and supporting disability sport.
Andy’s helping hand
Since Andy was forced to retire from the army he has helped young people who often need a role model at a difficult time in their life. He looks back with pride at how far he has come but knows not everyone can say the same, which is why his latest project is a series of talks taking a look at mental health and the difficulties soldiers have after they can no longer serve.
Recently, Andy became the new Outreach Officer for the South for BLESMA, the military charity for limbless veterans and is relishing having the chance to support people who have gone through the same trauma as he did. “I want to create groups where veterans can talk to each other and vent with people who have the same experiences” said Andy, who knows plenty about transitioning back to a life you never plan for.
Andy is always positive and, instead of focusing on losing his leg, he is always quick to point out “that it could have been so much worse” – three of his fellow soldiers lost their lives on that faithful day.
When the survivors gave evidence to the inquest months later, they were told by Andrew Walker, the deputy Oxford coroner: ‘You are courageous and utterly fearless. I have nothing but admiration for you and your fellow soldiers."
Andy may play down his achievements, but he is an inspiration to everyone he meets.
You can find out more about how our expert military team help clients like Andy recover from a life changing injury here.