The simple truth is that after suffering appalling injuries caused by a bomb planted in the desert in Afghanistan, Sgt Rick Clement, then 30-years-old, should not have survived.
He was resuscitated twice in the hours afterwards and remained in a coma for three weeks.
After a series of operations, he awoke to be told that he had lost both legs and had suffered devastating internal injuries which meant he could never have children.
Tonight Rick, who lives in South Shore, is holding a party to mark the fifth anniversary of an accident which may have ripped apart his life but which, somehow, has not defeated him.
In the five years since, this inspirational individual has set up a charity that has raised £250,000 for injured servicemen, been pushed down the red carpet at a James Bond premiere by Jeremy Clarkson, and appeared in a best-selling book by musician Bryan Adams.
“I try and think of myself as being very fortunate – because without a doubt I should have died that day and yet here I am,” says Rick.
“There have been some difficult times, really difficult times, but I’m still here and that’s all that matters.”
May 27, 2010. A day which began like any other.
Rick led his team from the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment on a routine patrol in Helmand Province.
There was a bomb buried under the ground, hidden from view. Rick stepped on it.
“The blast is weird to describe because although it was a massive explosion, to me it sounded like a little ‘puff’ sound,” recalls Rick. “Everything was disorientated. I knew I’d been knocked to the floor because I felt the dust, but I was still conscious and felt no pain. It hit home that I’d been injured when the guys started running over to treat me. I think it was then my brain realised it was bad.
“I said to one of my friends ‘I know it’s my legs, are they gone?’ He gave me the honest answer, he said yes. I didn’t know at the time that my right arm had been badly damaged as well. I was grabbing at my crotch with my good arm because I knew that had been badly damaged as well.”
Medics later told Rick they were amazed that his right arm, terribly damaged at the elbow, had remained attached to his body.
Bundled on to a Chinook helicopter to fly him to Camp Bastion and get medical help, Rick’s one aim was to stay awake.
“They tried to put an oxygen mask on me but I thought they were trying to put me to sleep so I wouldn’t let them,” he says.
“I was told later that I was fighting with them and telling them that under no circumstances were they to knock me out. In the end I fought so hard that they gave up – and also because they thought it might be my dying wish.
“I don’t remember much from that point on but apparently I was starting to fade away.
“Basically I underwent lots of surgery and the medics stabilised me. Then I was put on a plane to the UK because there was every chance I would die at any point, so the idea was to get me home so at least my family could be by my side.
“In England the doctors induced me into a coma, did more surgery, and I eventually woke almost four weeks later.”
“My mum and dad had asked the doctors to explain everything to me straight away, so I would know from the start exactly how things were.
“I mean obviously I knew my legs had gone but other stuff, like my genitals, were bandaged up so I wouldn’t have been aware about not being able to have kids.
“At that point it was very difficult. I thought life was over. I thought I’d have to be wheeled round in a chair all my life. I was thinking ‘what’s the point?’ But not long after there were a few other incidents in Afghanistan and although it’s not exactly nice to say, it actually helped me … particularly learning friends I had were killed. I had some very tearful moments in the hospital over that, but it gave me an appreciation for the fact that I had survived and I think that helped massively.”
Rick was eventually moved from Brimingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital to Headley Court in Surrey, a centre for the rehabilitation of injured service personnel.
“That’s where thing really started to pick up,” he says.
“I saw guys who had suffered similar injuries to mine, but who were two years down the line, and to see them up and about on prosthetic arms and legs and driving themselves home – that gave me heart.
“I thought if they can do it, I’ll be able to do it in time.
“And I have. I can’t scuba dive – which I love – because I’ve no eardrum in my right ear, and I can’t run around playing football. But other than that I can do pretty much everything else.”
Rick married Blackpool girl Leanne Isaacs 12 months after the blast. Their separation less than two years later made headlines in the national press.
“There was a lot of reasons for the marriage failing. My injuries were a part of it, but I’d say a small part,” says Rick.
“After the accident I gave her the option of walking away, telling her I’d understand if she wanted to.
“We probably should have waited before getting married but we’d overcome what happened and I think we thought ‘well if we can overcome that, we can overcome anything’.
“I’m appreciative of what she did at the time and I haven’t got a bad word to say about her. We have both got on with our separate lives now and I will always wish her the best.”
“The worst times are anniversaries or poignant days.
“Remembrance Day, the anniversaries of friends that were killed…those are the times I struggle a bit. I guess I question why I managed to come through and they didn’t.
“But I also use that to push me on, to feel privileged about surviving, and to think I owe it to them to get out there and make the most of life.
“It is hard sometimes, though, and I do sometimes need to lock the door for a day and sit at home. When that happens I watch movies to keep my mind off things, try not to get too down – and then wake up the next morning and go again.”
If there can be an upside to the injuries Rick suffered, it is that he has, as he puts it, “been privileged to take part in things that I would never have got to do otherwise.”
He was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in the build-up to London 2012 - “it was a really proud moment and something I’ll never forget” - and invited to the Chelsea home of rock star Bryan Adams for a photo exhibit about British servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries.Then there was attending the London premiere of the James Bond film Skyfall, where he was pushed along the red carpet by Jeremy Clarkson.
Rick is also an ambassador for Lancashire Cricket Club. “It’s a bit surreal because there’s Phil Neville, Joe Hart, Jimmy Anderson, The Courteeners ... and me. I’m not sure how I fit into that, but it is brilliant to go out and do stuff like playing table cricket with disabled kids and to help raise money.”
Two years ago Rick decided to help others who had been injured on military duty.
He launched the charity A Soldier’s Journey. The money raised is about to pass the £250,000 mark. “To be able to use that money to buy equipment and hand it to the people that need it is fantastic,” he says. “We’ve got a couple of people off the streets - veterans who have fallen on hard times - and into their own flats. It is the biggest privilege to help others, and it is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
FIVE YEARS ON
“It’s flown by. Tonight we are having a party, and organising it has been helpful because it’s stopped me dwelling too much and reflecting on the anniversary.
“What do I want to achieve in the future? I’d like to meet another partner and to go on holidays and see parts of the world I’ve not yet seen. I am very lucky that because of the compensation given to me after the accident I was able to buy my house. I get my pension, which is a wage for life so that allows me to give myself full-time to the charity. My only other ambition is to carry on achieving what people think you can’t achieve - and to set an example to others so that they can do it as well.”
Using an American-made socket and a £100,000 knee-joint developed in Germany, Rick will - in a fortnight - be fitted with prosthetic limbs.
If it is a success, it will enable him to do something he never thought possible - walk.
“I’m trying not to get too excited about it until we try it out and see how it is going to be,” he said. “But I’ll be amazed if I can’t use it in the future to get out of my car, walk into a pub or restaurant and drive home again. That would be a massive thing, and a huge personal achievement.”
“I get some lovely comments, especially on the charity’s website, and I understand why people see what I’ve gone through and what I’m doing now as a kind of inspiring story. But I was just doing my job, I knew the risks. For me what happened, happened. It’s real-life and now, like everyone else, I just want to be happy.”
– To learn more about Rick Clement and to donate money to his charity, go to: www.a-soldiers-journey.co.uk