The Big Interview: Steven Richardson
This week, we take the opportunity to chat to our brave army veteran and Help For Heroes fundraiser, Steven Richardson…..
Afghanistan 2010, Operation Herrick 12: the role of mentoring and advising the Afghan army fell to the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, Royal Scots Borderers. Among them was a young 22-year-old Steven Richardson (pictured opposite), whose life changed forever when an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded under his feet. He awoke, four days later, in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, to discover that both of his legs had been amputated above the knee, and that he’d lost five fingers.
It had always been Steven’s ambition to serve in the British army. Impatient for recruitment, he’d asked his parents to give their consent when he was just 16 years old. They refused. But in 2006, when Steven turned 18, he was free to follow his dream, and he joined up immediately. His army career came to an end just four years later.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, is home to The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) – the primary receiving hospital for service personnel injured on operations. After a week of drifting in and out of consciousness, Steven began to take some small steps towards recovery. The first hurdle was sitting up.
“I’d been lying down for 10 days”, Steven explained. “When I first tried to sit up in bed, I nearly fainted; I just toppled over.”
During his four weeks at the Queen Elizabeth, Steven received a lot of physiotherapy, and he was soon ready to try out his first wheelchair. As a soldier, Steven had been a competent driver of all land vehicles; however, due to the loss of so many fingers, now even his handling of a wheelchair was somewhat erratic.
“I was like a ping-pong ball bouncing off the walls,” he told me, laughing.
A month at the RCDM was followed by physiotherapy and occupational therapy at Headley Court, a military-run rehabilitation centre for wounded service personnel, opened in June 2010 by HRH Prince William of Wales. Steven would spend four or five weeks at Headley Court, followed by two or three weeks at home. This pattern continued throughout his three years of rehabilitation.
In 2012, Steven met Jon-Paul Nevin, head of Strength and Conditioning at the Phoenix House Recovery Centre gym, at Tedworth House, in Wiltshire – a centre operated by Help for Heroes. Steven and JP (as he is known by his friends) were surprised to discover that they had a connection.
“We’d never met before,” Steven told me, “but it turned out we’d grown up in the same village – East Calder – and we went to the same schools. JP’s younger brother was in the year above me.”
JP had big plans: He intended to enter an eight-man team of injured soldiers into the 3,000-mile cycle relay race across the United States of America in June 2012. This would be the very first disabled team to enter the race. Steven wanted to be a part of it.
Training for this event took place at Tedworth House. Steven would spend a weekend or a week at a time at Tedworth, working out in the Phoenix Centre gym. Lots of men began training, hoping to be selected for the team. As Steven would be using a hand bike, it was important for him to build up his upper-body strength as well as his stamina. By the end of his training period, he was doing a bike ride every day. Steven was now in excellent shape – thoroughly deserving of his place in the team.
Steven was one of four athletes in Team Battle Back to use a hand bike; the other three – Simon Harmer, Steve Arnold, and Joe Townsend – had all lost legs in explosions in Afghanistan. Between them, the eight men cycled 3051 miles over hilly terrain, crossing 12 states from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. They raised almost £100,000 for Help for Heroes.
I asked Steven about his prosthetic legs – something along the lines of: “Do you have a pair?” With a chuckle, Steven said, “I have more legs now than I’ve ever had. In fact, I have a wardrobe full of them, lined up in pairs – it’s rather like a graveyard in there.” Knowing that Steven had been an expert marksman during his army career, I asked whether he still did any shooting. “A bit of pest control. I’m going out tonight, actually. I’ll take my five dogs with me for a run.”
“Yes – springer spaniel, Labrador, Staffordshire terrier, German shepherd, and a collie-cross.”
I asked Steven if the loss of so many fingers caused difficulties in handling his rifle. “Well, I have four fingers on my left hand,” he told me, “and as I’m left-handed anyway, it’s not too awkward. I bought a .22 Rat Sniper air rifle from Pellpax, and I get on really well with that.”
Now Steven is moving on to the next phase of his life: he’s about to begin a course in sea kayaking at Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. His plan is to set up in business as a sea kayaking guide, conducting day trips and overnight excursions around the Scottish coast.
“The thing is,” he said, “most of the best paddling is over on the west coast of Scotland, and I live on the east coast. But rather than move house, I’ll be mobile: I’ll meet clients wherever they wish to explore.” Steven Richardson is a strong and determined man. We wish him every success in his new career.