A FORMER Royal Welsh Fusilier who lost both his legs serving in Afghanistan is now a qualified personal trainer and has set his sights on competing in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
Stephen Handley, who trains at Penarth Leisure Centre, is hoping his journey from battle field to athletics track will inspire others to believe that they can overcome anything if they put their minds to it.
Stephen, who joined the army when he was 19, was serving in Afghanistan when he stood on an improvised explosive device (IED) and was thrown into the air as he lost both his legs.
"I heard a massive bang and realised I was up in the air looking at the top of the trees,” he said.
"I hit the deck and everything was ringing.
“I knew what to expect and that I’d probably lost both my legs”
As medics rushed to take him away they stood on another IED that partially exploded and he was thrown off his stretcher back on to the floor.
Stephen was then flown by helicopter from Helmand Province to Camp Bastion for treatment, before he was flown back to the UK the following day where he had both his legs amputated below the knee.
He spent four weeks in Birmingham Hospital, four weeks in Headley Court Military Hospital for his rehabilitation, and then two weeks later he had prosthetic legs and was back on his feet.
The explosion happened in May 2012 and Stephen, 25, said that he set himself the aim of being back on his feet by the time he friends returned from service as one of his main goals.
“I wanted to be running by the time my friends came back from Afghanistan and they said that was a bit optimistic, but I had a determination to get up and get fit again,” he said.
"I wanted them to see me how they remembered me. I didn't want to be sitting in a wheelchair, I wanted to be the same person I was.”
Stephen, who trains twice a day four times a week, added that his motivation to get fit again and live a normal life helped with his rehabilitation and gave him something to focus on.
Stephen, who lives at Hartland House in Cardiff Bay, recently passed a course to become a personal trainer and has now set up his own company, B-Ripped Fitness.
“During my rehab with my instructor it made me want to be a personal trainer,” he said.
“I'm looking forward to getting some clients and helping other people.
“Training and fitness helps people in so many different ways.
“If you feel sad in your body you feel sad in your mind, that's something that they drum into you in the army.”
Stephen is also now aiming to compete in the Rio Paralympics in 2016 in the 100m after he attended a number of talent identification sessions and was told he had potential after he'd had blades fitted.
He was recommended to see Penarth’s Paralympic sports coach Anthony Hughes, who was voted Welsh Sports Coach of the Year in 2011, who put him in touch with UK Athletics.
"I have been doing track work with a few trainers and I'm trying to get as good as I can and hopefully start competing and qualify for Rio,” he said.
“The coaches have said it's too early to say if I'm good enough for Rio as I still need to perfect the technique of running on blades, but I believe if you want to do something you can do it.”
Stephen’s personal training company can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/brippedfitness