THEY have suffered life-changing injuries fighting for our country.
But a crew of injured servicemen are now battling it out for major honours at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week .
Nine men and women who have sustained traumatic injuries, including the loss of limbs, are among a group of sailors put together by Toe in the Water, a Hampshire charity that uses competitive sailing to help with their rehabilitation.
Despite just two days of training ahead of the sailing regatta, the determined team have fought off the challenge of professional sailors, to put themselves in third place overall, in the Class 0 category.
Record-breaking Hampshire yachtswoman Dee Caffari , who has been an ambassador for Gosportbased Toe in the Water since 2009, hailed the crew as one of the best the charity has put together.
Following the crew’s third place finish in yesterday’s race, a delighted Dee said: “We are third overall out of a fleet of 12, so it’s a massive achievement.
“For a large proportion of the guys they stepped on a boat for the first day ever on Thursday, for our first training day.
“They have only had six days of sailing, two days training and four days of racing, so they can’t believe they are competing against some of these boats and these crews.
“For me this is a passion. I love what I do and to see these guys get a buzz out of it and get excited when the boat is going fast, you can see they are really proud of what they are doing.
“I’m really impressed with the crew. They are naturally competitive. We’re not out there for a jolly cruise, or to make them feel good.
We are here to win.”
Among those helped by Toe in the Water is Private Chris Herbert, whose world was shattered when he lost his leg while on patrol in southern Iraq.
The attack left him struggling to adapt to a new life but now the 24-year-old has turned his life around since he became involved with the charity.
Now, five years after the horrifying attack which left him without a right leg, Chris has been made an ambassador.
The Portsmouth-based soldier from the Fourth Battalion of the Territorial Army was returning from patrol in his Snatch Land Rover when it went over an improvised explosive device.
“I just remember looking down and my knee looked like mashed potato,” he said. “I was numb from my toes up to my belly. I didn’t feel any pain.”
Although initially not keen to take part in sailing, Chris said Toe in the Water had changed his life and allowed him to move on from his injuries.
“Initially I didn’t want to go, I saw sailing as elitist,” he said. “I got off the boat the first day and I was almost in tears. I haven’t looked back.
“A lot of the soldiers love it. They get involved with sailing. Some of the guys don’t like sailing but they all say they benefitted from it.
“To be put on the same level as some of these sailors who have had massive achievements, I’m really proud,” he said.
Co-founder of Toe in the Water, Tanya Herbert, said she was pleased to see that Chris had been made an ambassador.
“Chris was one of the first to be referred to Toe in the Water,” she said.
“What a huge difference it has made to his life. We wanted to acknowledge the support that he has given to the charity as a whole and we are grateful to him since he lost his leg in Iraq.”