Cpt Matt O’Hare + Cpl Philip Gillespie copyright DPPI, and The team celebrate completing the rally (DPPI)
The first driver with disabilities to finish the world’s toughest motor rally has described his emotions at beating the odds to stand on the podium at the end of the Dakar Rally in South America earlier this year.
Corporal Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie was part of the 28-strong Race2Recovery team, founded by and largely made up of injured UK servicemen. He lost his right leg, below the knee, when he stood on an IED during his third tour of Afghanistan.
Writing in the team’s official book about the race, which is published later this month with £2 from every copy going to the Race2Recovery Foundation and Help For Heroes, he said: ‘It was definitely one of the best days of my life. I was standing on that podium nearly two years to the day after I got blown up.
‘After I lost my leg, I wanted to do something big to prove to myself and others that anything is still possible, and I’ve done just that. When we were on the podium, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.’
The Race2Recovery team’s four Land Rover Defender-based Wildcat rally cars set off from Peru on the rally on January 5th, but only one car, called Joy, crossed the line two weeks later in Chile after driving across some of the most challenging terrains on the planet.
Cpl Gillespie’s co-driver was Captain Matt O’Hare, one of the founding members of the Race2Recovery team who had served for 11 years in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He writes in the book: ‘The whole team was there to greet us and all I felt was absolute pure elation. I never thought that only one car would finish and I wasn’t prepared psychologically for being in the last remaining Race2Recovery car, let alone the only one to finish.
‘It was just phenomenal and a privilege to stand next to Barney on the podium. We have become really close, as you can imagine, spending two weeks in a very confined space with each other! It’s an honour being able to call him my friend.’
Race2Recovery was conceived by Captain Tony Harris, 31, and Corporal Tom Neathway, 28, who met at Headley Court in Surrey as part of their rehabilitation after suffering injuries in Afghanistan. For Capt Harris, an encounter with an IED in 2009 resulted in the amputation of his left foot, while Cpl Neathway lost both legs and his left arm after triggering a booby trap in 2008.
Captain Tony Harris who led the Dakar team said: ‘Looking back on the Dakar now that I’m home, rested and can see things clearly, I’ve realised what an eye-opener the whole thing was; right from the early days to the moment we climbed the podium.
‘From a personal point of view, I’ve realised what can be achieved. Together we organised and delivered the Race2Recovery team. Obviously I didn’t do it alone – it was a team effort – but in the process I recognised my strong and weak points and just went for it. In the military, everyone has a clear label and is an expert in their field, and you generally have support wherever you turn; in civilian life that support isn’t always there.
‘After doing Race2Recovery, I have confidence in myself now and know that I can survive life after the military, and not only survive, but really thrive too. This is just the beginning … I hope.’
Race2Recovery is the first recipient of a £100,000 grant from The Royal Foundation Endeavour Fund, set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to enable wounded and injured servicemen and women to take part in challenges and expeditions that will assist with their recovery.
The story will be published on March 14th 2013 with £2 from every copy divided equally between Help for Heroes and the Race2Recovery Foundation to support the Help For Heroes run Tedworth House Recovery Centre for injured military personnel in Wiltshire.
Race2Recovery: Beyond Injury, Achieving the Extraordinary by Stephanie Temple (Haynes and FireStep Publishing) £17.99 haynes.co.uk/race2recovery