An ex-serviceman who lost his leg in action says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Mark Smith, from Milton Keynes, never enjoyed his schooldays, from the age of 14 he had his sights swapping the playground for the battlefield and that is exactly what he did.
As soon as he could Smith packed his bag and joined the army for a fresh start in life.
"I didn't see myself sat at a desk,” he told lifestyle website Joe earlier this month.
Mark had landed his dream career, but in 2011 he was involved in a horrific shooting incident.
"It was 2011 and we were in Canada doing our pre-deployment training before going out to Afghanistan the following year,” he recalled.
"Those of us who were qualified to oversee live firing ranges were there to assist the next regiment doing their training.
"It was during a platoon attack in the live firing range that I was shot seven times through an MDF compound wall. They're really thin, and only there to simulate going through compounds in Afghanistan."
Seven bullets were fired into Mark’s right leg, another landed in his shoulder, fortunately thanks to a tourniquet being applied immediately after the blast he cheated death, but on the way to a local hospital via helicopter he stopped breathing for five minutes.
Mark was brought back to life, but flatlined again when surgeons told him they would have to remove his leg above the knee.
"My leg was causing organ failure around the rest of my body. Doctors said they had to amputate if I was to stay alive,” Mark explained.
At first Smith found it difficult to accept he was now an amputee and was unable to go back to the army.
"Being disabled wasn't really the thing that upset me,” he said. “It was knowing I couldn't play football anymore or stay in the forces."
Determined not to give up Mark took up fitness training and when he was on the road to recovery moved to the British Army’s rehabilitation centre in Surrey, Headley Court.
"I was struggling with not knowing what my next career move would be,” Smith admitted.
"I kept telling the occupational therapists I wanted to do something where I stayed active. With all my own time, I kept spending it in the gym.
"Obviously, I couldn't do conventional squats, so I had to make use of hack squats. I'd already been told off for breaking a prosthetic when I was trying to squat."
Looking for new inspiration Mark became interested in an American bodybuilding division for people with disabilities.
"I thought that would be a good goal to have, as I'd gone down to nine stone in hospital. I was determined not to stay like that,” he explained.
In 2015 Mark won a bodybuilding competition where he was joined onstage by one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, Phil Heath.
His next goal was to sign up for a disabled strongman taster day in Kent where he manage to lift a 100kg atlas stone on his first attempt.
"People would say, 'Why would you want to pull a truck? It's hard work,” Smith said.
"Hard work is digging a six foot trench, hallucinating and only having 20 minutes sleep in ten days."
Bodybuilding done, strongman achieved – it was time to put himself forward for the Britain’s Strongest Man competition which involved pulling a truck on the first day…He won!
When it came to holding the Hercules Mark thought he had the chance of winning the whole contest.
"I'd never done any grip work, they were 80 kilos, so I was expecting to let go straight away.
"But I ended up zoning out, closing my eyes and slowing my breathing down. I broke the world record, holding them for four minutes and one second."
He won the Hercules!
All Mark needed to do was to take the weight of five stones in the atlas stone challenge. It was a tough competition, but he achieved it.
Looking back Smith thinks losing his leg "was the best thing to ever happen" to him.
"If there was ever a right time to lose a limb, it's probably now - or in the last couple of years.
"People's perceptions of disability, and what we can achieve, have changed - and there are so many avenues to explore."
'Strength of Mind' by Mark Smit, is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition.
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