Meet Rory, Thrive's new trustee

01/05/2013

Former soldier and army medic Rory Mackenzie has joined Thrive as a trustee. Thirty-year-old Rory from Surrey is particularly looking forward to supporting our new project working with disabled ex-military personnel which is due to launch later in the year.

Rory became an instantly recognisable face following his powerful performance at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics last year where he climbed a dizzyingly tall staircase to a platform 40 feet in the air and delivered that rousing, scene-setting prologue to the Festival of the Flame. Daunting for anyone, but for Rory the climb took a bit of time as he only has one leg.

Deployed to Basra, Iraq six years ago, Rory’s role was to help the wounded but three months into a six month tour, his routine early morning patrol was hit by a roadside bomb. The device detonated with deadly precision; penetrating the vehicle; tearing through his right buttock, through his leg, exiting through his knee and finally stopping in the chest of the soldier sitting not more than a metre away from Rory. The soldier, who was the youngest serving in the British Army in Iraq at the time, died instantly.

Rory realised he had lost his leg while being handed over to the Immediate Reaction Team on the Chinook helicopter. He was in a very serious condition and needed a 16 hour operation to stabilise his wounds. He was flown to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. Whilst there, he had seven further operations, contracted MRSA, was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and grew weaker day by day. He ended up with his entire leg being amputated and was left with a stump barely able to take a prosthesis.

Stuck for long periods in a wheelchair, Rory became angry. His short-term memory was shot. A psychiatrist at Headley Court (where he spent seven months) sent him for a spell at The Priory "to rule out post-traumatic stress disorder" but what he really needed was to regain control over his own body.

"What had happened to me had sunk in and I believed I was no longer the person I was before the bomb detonated. I had become aggressive, angry and upset at the hand which had been dealt to me. I was healthy and strong but angry at the fact that my sports and extreme lifestyle was ruined. I had created in my mind a long list of all the things I would never do again.

"At the point when the IED is detonated, or the shot is fired, a soldier is at his peak of physical fitness. And then two seconds later you revert to a kind of infancy. You’re learning to walk again, and if you don’t deal with it, it can haunt you."

Rory received an invitation via Help for Heroes to go adaptive skiing in Bavaria, Germany, under a new military programme called Battle Back.

"I didn't waste a second and jumped at the opportunity. I had no idea what to expect or what I was actually getting myself into.

"The speed, thrill and excitement of the sport, I believe, literally healed my frame of mind overnight. I no longer had a list of all the things I couldn't do; I now had a long list of all the things I could potentially do! I came off those slopes a different person, with a complete different frame of mind towards my own life and my future.

"With skiing, the freedom and exhilaration allow me to forget about my disability, and gave me confidence to approach the rest of my life with a genuinely positive outlook. It has given me a future where I now believe I can succeed in whatever I put my mind to. Anything is possible!"

This is why Rory is backing our new Down to Earth project which offers armed forces veterans regular outdoor work days lead by Thrive’s experienced trainers. Then there’s the other benefits of learning a completely different and new skill and even gaining qualifications which could lead to a job; not to mention the improved levels of fitness and general health and well-being that comes from being outdoors. The project, which launches later this year, is supported by the Royal British Legion.

Rory left the forces last year and now works as a motivational speaker contracted to a large company. He talks about his experiences and also the epic Row2Recovery challenge, a 3,000- mile crossing from Africa to Barbados, which he did last Christmas with three other severely wounded and two able bodied servicemen. This challenge, which attracted worldwide media, raised over £1 million for charities that support wounded military personnel.

And what about gardening? Does Rory don wellies over his prosthesis?

"My mother loves her garden and I can see that she gets a great deal of joy and pleasure from it, so I understand how being outside and experiencing nature is good for you.

"For those coming out of the forces with some of the issues I experienced, the chance to work in a team again, learn something new and doing it outdoors in all weathers, is just the job.

"And gardening is great for fitness – you should see the muscles on my mum!"