Spartan test for ‘inspirational’ ex-army amputees

Stevie Richardson, Jake Bartlett and James Simpson train ahead of taking part in the Spartan Race event. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

Stevie Richardson, Jake Bartlett and James Simpson train ahead of taking part in the Spartan Race event. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

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The organiser of a gruelling obstacle race has described three ex-Army amputees who lost legs in Afghanistan as “awe-inspiring” as he watched them train for an upcoming event.

James Simpson, 28, became the first double amputee to win a medal for completing three tough Spartan Race events last year.

Next month he will be joined by Stevie Richardson, 26, and Jake Bartlett, 23, for a 5km event through rolling countryside around Winton House, East Lothian, as the group tackle 15 surprise obstacles.

Mr Bartlett and Mr Richardson, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered hand damage in separate explosions in Helmland, will wear “stubbie” prosthetic feet for the event, making them much shorter than their usual height when they wear regular false limbs.

Mr Bartlett lost one leg and badly damaged the other when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan in October 2009, and the three former soldiers will tackle the Spartan Sprint on September 21 together as a team.

Obstacles will include monkey bars, a mud crawl under barbed wire and a jump through fire.

The muddy races, named after the fearless Ancient Greek fighters, have been designed to make athletes find their “inner warrior”.

Most of the 2,500 entrants will find it tough enough, but it will be even harder for the ex-soldiers.

Dan Tuffnell, director of Spartan Racing UK, watched them go through an impressive training routine ahead of the event.

They lifted dead weights, tipped a tractor tyre, did handstand push-ups and worked up a sweat honing their immense upper body strength on the bars at the CrossFit gym in Leeds.

Mr Tuffnell said: “These guys are an absolute inspiration to us all.

“They have dedicated their lives to this country and it is an honour to put on this event for them to come and have a challenge with us.

“It’s awe-inspiring for me.

“They are going to smash all the obstacles this year. I have absolute confidence in them.”

Mr Richardson, 26, from Tranent, East Lothian, got to know the others at the Headley Court rehabilitation centre in Surrey.

He was injured in Afghanistan about six months after Mr Simpson and Mr Bartlett.

He said: “Between the lot of us we all have some significant injuries but I’m confident between the three of us we can work something out because it’s the sort of the thing we did in the Army a lot and it’s the sort of thing you get used to in everyday life, overcoming obstacles.

“The length of time we have been injured and on prosthetics, you get to know what you can and cannot do to get round certain obstacles.

“Part of the fun is working it out for ourselves and not needing any help.

“Granted it might take us longer than most able-bodied people, but we will get it done.”

Grinning, he added: “They are both good lads. They have similar attitudes to myself to getting around. It’s just a shame they’re English. Nobody’s perfect!”

Mr Simpson, who is from Leeds, was so determined to be the first double amputee to complete the Spartan Trifecta Medal - the three races - he travelled to Texas to complete the final event.

He is coming back this time for a fresh challenge with the other amputees, having been assisted last year by three or four able-bodied friends.

“Every obstacle is not as simple as it looks,” he said.

“The monkey bars - we can’t reach them because we are so small on our stubbies - so the challenge is going to be quite interesting, but I have been through them all before so hopefully I will be able to get all that into practice.”

Mr Bartlett, 23, from Leeds, said: “It’s going to be tough, but if we can’t get around it we will find a way to get over it together.

“We are putting a lot of hard work in.”

He is raising money for the Pilgrim Bandits charity which sees ex-Special Forces personnel take injured servicemen on challenges. He went ski-diving with the group in Dubai.

Mr Bartlett said he will gain a great sense of achievement by finishing the event - and hoped others will get off the sofa and follow in his muddy footsteps.

“If we can do it - three amputees - there’s no excuse,” he said.