Plymouth-based Royal Marine goes from devastating injury to champion in a year
JUST weeks after his leg was blown off by a Taliban bomb, Royal Marine Simon Maxwell signed up to compete in a gruelling Ironman endurance race.
And less than a year after he lost his left leg the Plymouth based officer completed the challenge by swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running a full 26.2 mile marathon.
Now, after completing the race and being honoured for his remarkable achievement, he has spoken to The Herald.
The 24-year-old told how he was determined to fight back
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from the devastating injury he received when an Improvised Explosive Device was detonated next to him during a patrol in Afghanistan.
His astonishing story led to him receiving an award for overcoming adversity. Despite facing medical discharge from his beloved corps, the Marine still doesn't feel sorry for himself.
He described how he had been on patrol with his troop of marines from 42 Commando's Lima Company in August 2011 when the bomb – hidden in a ditch – went off.
Simon said: "When I woke the leg had gone. I remember when the lads lifted me out the ditch and the leg just dropped down and started flopping around, so I knew it needed to go."
Last July, fitted with his new leg, Simon – who is now a member of Hasler Company – completed the race in Bolton. He finished in just 15 hours and 50 minutes – ahead of many other able bodied competitors.
"I signed up for the Ironman before I started walking or even had a leg," he explained.
"To start with the only thing I could do was swimming as without the prosthetic leg I couldn't cycle or run."
For hundreds of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan the enemy lies undetected, buried in the dirt, hidden in ditches and stuffed into wall cavities.
And for Bickleigh-based 42 Commando Royal Marine, Captain Simon Maxwell, that was no different.
Deploying on his first tour of Afghanistan as a young troop commander, the marine was among the many to be maimed by the Taliban's weapon of choice, the Improvised Explosive Device.
On August 12, 2011, Simon had been operating from Check Point Salaang when his troop began a patrol in the area of Zarawar.
The 24-year-old had been leading his marines from Lima Company when they approached an area of open ground.
"We had been under fire earlier on during the patrol and after it finished we moved to cross an area of open ground," he explained.
"Out of nowhere there was a blast in the side of this ditch, I was blown into the air and woke up in the bottom of the ditch with a sharp pain in my leg.
"I looked down to see my leg at a right angle. The lads started clearing the way up to me when Marine Ben Williams started sorting me out."
Immediately after Simon was injured, a helicopter flew from Camp Bastion out to Zarawar with a team of medics ready to begin treating the officer.
"Apart from the obvious pain, it wasn't an unenjoyable experience," he said.
"The banter started and the lads were brilliant they really got around me."
On the helicopter the Captain was given the drug Ketamine designed to sedate the patient before he was anaesthetised on the operating table.
"When I woke the leg had gone. I remember when the lads lifted me out the ditch and the leg just dropped down and started flopping around, so I knew it needed to go."
The explosion marked not just the end of his first tour of Afghanistan but his career as a troop commander in the Royal Marines.
Now a member of Hasler Company based in Devonport, Simon added: "For me it was annoyance not being able to finish the tour with the boys.
"It was frustrating, we hadn't done anything wrong, it just happened so unexpectedly."
Within 24 hours Simon was back in the UK having been flown to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham.
He underwent two further operations taking his amputation back further and in the November he received his first prosthetic leg – one week before 42 Commandos homecoming parade through the city centre.
Determined not to go on parade in a wheelchair, Simon put up with the pain to walk the entire route with his troop.
"I got my leg the week before and I really wanted to do the march around Plymouth," he said.
"I had a stick but it was pretty painful. It was a proud moment, I had been really worried and I didn't want to be in a wheelchair but the crowds really cheered me on.
"I left my walking stick in the lads room the night before and asked them to bring it down. When it came back it was spray painted bright yellow – ironically with the same spray used to mark out mines – it was a good gag."
Receiving rehab at Headley Court in Surrey, Simon was among a number of other Bickleigh-based marines to be getting patched up back in the UK.
"Unfortunately a lot of my company were in rehab with me," he explains.
"We were a bit of a sorry unit. It was unfortunate, we had a rough old tour but we were in it together."
Earlier this month, Simon, won the Overcoming Adversity Millie Award for his triumphs at the Wounded Warrior Games in America and completing the Ironman triathlon – not even a year after being blown up.
"I was surprised to win the Millie, it was a surprise I'd even been nominated and I got to meet Ricky Gervais who is my ultimate hero. It's a nice closure to an odd year."
Fortunately his injury has now settled and since March there has been no further complications to his wound.
He only returns to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court when his leg needs a "tweak" or for a new leg.
"I remember when I was at home before we deployed passing a wheelchair sign and joking it could be me in a year but I never seriously thought about getting injured.
"Apart from not being able to stay in the marines as a troop commander it's not been that much of a hindrance.
"The leg is that good I put it on in the morning and by the end of the day I have to be like, oh yeah I have a prosthetic leg. I'm so used to it I wouldn't know what it was like to have a real leg again."
Simon, who is engaged to fiancee, Elizabeth, is due to be medically discharged from the marines in May. He will begin a Civil Service job in January.
He finished: "Everyone expects you to have a bad day but I didn't give myself a chance."