AN INSPIRATIONAL Droitwich man helped 26 disabled war veterans on their rehabilitation journeys by volunteering for a Skiing With Heroes trip.
Mark Withington, who lives in Corbett Street and works for Bromsgrove-based accountant, returned from Klosters, in Switzerland, after a trip of a lifetime last week.
The project helps ex-Iraq and Afghanistan campaign soldiers with their recovery and by aiding them to get back into work.
Mark, who appeared in The Standard in November before he went on his trip, has managed to more than double his fund-raising target of £1,000 making £2,400 for the cause, so far.
The scheme aimed to help former soldiers, who had been injured in action, to use skiing as a physical and mental leveller for disabilities.
It was hoped the trip would help them rebuild their confidence and help those war veterans whose lives had been shattered by physical injuries or mental scars from the conflicts.
Mark spent a week as a ski buddy for two veterans called Derek and Martin.
Derek had been hit by an improvised explosive device and was pronounced dead and, despite being shot again, he was found to still have a faint pulse. He spent months in a coma and had to endure years of surgery to rebuild his face, shoulder and ankle with titanium.
Martin carries spinal injuries but what is more debilitating is the severe combat stress he suffers.
All those taking part had an array of disabilities including brain and spinal injuries, visual and hearing impairments or were amputees. The youngest veteran on the trip was 22-years-old.
Mark said each day the group would take the gondola and cable car rides up the mountain – that was no mean feat for those who suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome and had flashbacks which could be triggered from being in enclosed spaces with loud noises.
As well as this, a group of 15 volunteers from the town also played their part for the cause, by kindly bringing the veterans lunch up the mountain everyday.
HRH Prince Charles also took time out of his personal holiday to show his support for the cause and paid a special visit to the group.
He added he was very proud of his veterans as they proved to be fearlessly quick learners and conquered the mountains of Klosters and Davos very fast.
“The support from all involved was a humbling experience as the local volunteers also accommodated the ski buddies in their houses, apartments and chalets for free during the week.” Mark said.
“Afternoons were then spent skiing in the sun and finished early to allow the veterans to have physio, osteo, acupuncture and/or mindfulness sessions provided by the charity before dinner.”
Mark said the most inspirational event of the week proved to be the race day where his veterans cleaned up with regard to the prizes and when it really became evident just how much progress the whole group had made.
“Seeing amputees, partially sighted and paralysed skiers successfully negotiating a slalom course with confidence and freedom was a liberating joy to behold.
“The week has achieved a new found confidence in everyone, from veterans, ski buddies and local volunteers, along with the formation of firm friendships and new support networks for some very vulnerable members of society.
“Whilst physical disabilities are very obvious, these are usually the ones most likely to be overcome by these determined veterans.
“However, the battle against the mental traumas of war are by far the most debilitating injuries, impacting on their broader families and a normal working life.
“This is where the hard work of rehabilitation now starts as the charity aim to assist their rehabilitation back to employment with a mentoring programme.”
Mark is continuing to fund-raise for the charity – anyone who wants to support the cause can visit www.justgiving.com/Mark-Withington for more.
The whole group. (s)
At the stop of the slopes. (s)