I survived 20 years fighting in war zones – then a crash left me degloved

My eyes flickered open, and it took me a few seconds to work out where I was. 

The smell of antiseptic assaulted my nostrils, and the incessant beep of monitors filled my ears as I looked around an unfamiliar room. 

My leg was wrapped in a vacuum bag and as a surgeon crouched down beside me to explain my options for the future, a wave of fear and confusion swept over me. 

It was May 2019 and I had just woken up at University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire having had life-changing surgery to save my foot after a freak accident.

Just hours earlier, I was riding my motorbike to a routine appointment when a car hit me side-on. I flew off my motorcycle, crashing into the road. 

I didn’t know how bad my injury was; I assumed I’d broken a leg. 

But instead, I’d suffered a degloving – where the flesh, tissue and muscle around my left ankle was lost and the sole of my foot fell off. I was also bleeding out.

Having spent almost two decades serving in war zones like Afghanistan, both with the Infantry and Intelligence Corps, I felt like I understood risk and danger.

After a few days in hospital, however, as the months of rehabilitation loomed in front of me, I felt a sense of hopelessness.

It turned out that my biggest battle was ahead of me – coping with the challenges of my injury and the dark depths my mental health would sink to. 

There is a picture below of Jonny’s stitches that some readers may want to scroll past

But it was getting back into sport that would end up saving my life and giving me the chance to represent my country at the Invictus Games. 

I had a month-long stay in hospital, having had seven surgeries in total to save my limb, before I had to learn to walk again. 

It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. And I’d done two tours of Northern Ireland and Afghanistan in my career as an army reservist, dealing with the daily threat of IEDs that haunted every step that we took on patrol.

Over the course of six months, I started from a wheelchair, moving to crutches, to walking poles and then finally to one pole.

After gruelling rehabilitation, my walking was improving, but even though my physical health was strengthening, my mental health had fallen apart. 

Doctors told me I’d have a permanent limp and wouldn’t be able to snowboard or play rugby again, things I had loved.

I started withdrawing from my family and avoided the things I once used to enjoy. 

Flashbacks of my accident consumed me and I found myself returning to the crash site again and again.

Those negative thoughts coincided with the Covid lockdowns and it left me isolated, and in a really dark place.

I felt like I couldn’t open up to my wife about this, as she was dealing with her first pregnancy and I didn’t want to worry her any further.  

She had been so supportive, but I felt that this was my fight to take on alone, but now I realise this wasn’t true, and that the love and support of my family was a vital weapon. 

I began to drink more and more, and by the autumn of 2019 I was at rock bottom.

But within a few months, I was determined to come out the other side, which I have done with the support of my family and access to ‘Op Courage’ – the NHS’s mental health support scheme for veterans and reservists. 

I had Eye Movement Distraction Remedy – a blinking therapy to help me process the trauma and flashbacks – and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which addressed how I was unravelling as a person, including how my behaviour impacted my relationships.

In 2022, I heard the Royal British Legion, who I had fundraised for previously, were delivering Team UK to the Invictus Games. 

Pre-injury, I had been aware of, and inspired by, the Games, which are a series of competitive events for wounded, sick and injured veterans and serving personnel founded by Prince Harry in 2014.

Having chatted to a couple of previous competitors about their experience, I realised I could still do the sports I loved – they’d just manifest themselves in a new way.  

I signed up, choosing three specific events, powerlifting, due to my post accident re-introduction to weight training via CrossFit, indoor rowing because I simply wanted to get fit again, and cycling, which has been the toughest challenge.

Getting back on two wheels again after a motorcycle accident has taken courage but I’ve got by with the help of the Team UK coaches and my fellow competitors.

As my training ramped up, I have not only begun to enjoy the kinds of activities I had participated in pre-accident, but honestly feel fitter than before.  

My little girl Margot, now three, even copies my gym movements and I already know that I have begun to inspire her too.

No matter what happens in competition, being able to stay active with Margot as she grows up is my Invictus medal!

The camaraderie between competitors brings down a barrier because there’s that shared experience that we all have of both serving and being injured. 

I never have to explain how I’m feeling – my teammates just get it.

I was speechless when I was selected to compete for my country and have been training ever since, preparing for the games in Dusseldorf.

My accident, and the mental health struggles that followed, have been my biggest challenge, but I’m determined to make them my biggest strength. 

As I represent my country, and reflect on how far I’ve come, my wife and daughter, my biggest fans, will be cheering me on.

I can’t wait to make them proud.

The Royal British Legion supports everyone in the armed forces, facing illness or injury. The charity in partnership with the Ministry of Defence is leading a team of veterans and military personnel to take part in this year’s Invictus Games. Visit rbl.org.uk/Invictus

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