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Afghanistan war hero’s Olympic dream

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HEROIC Craig Winspear wants to become an Olympian - 14 months after a bomb blast left his life hanging by a thread.

The Hartlepool soldier lost both his legs when he slipped on wet ground in Afghanistan and landed on a live bomb.

His family were told to prepare for the worst, but Craig was having none of it and fought back to health despite five months in hospital.

The brave town man is learning to walk all over again on prosthetic legs and he’s even set himself a new goal of competing in the Paralympics.

The 30-year-old has become totally inspired after taking part in the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics last year.

Craig, a former High Tunstall College of Science student, is now hoping to get strong enough to compete in wheelchair basketball.

“Taking part in the closing ceremony in London was amazing with 80,000 people there and a billion watching across the world,” said Lance Corporal Winspear, who grew up in the Burn Valley area.

“If I look back on it all, I feel like I have not had a life with legs. This might have shut one door, but it has opened so many more for me.”

On December 17, 2011, a bomb blast left the soldier from Hartlepool without legs.

He “died” more than once as he was brought back to Camp Bastion after that fateful day in Afghanistan.

He was still critically ill as he was flown back to Britain for further treatment, and then had to spend agonising month after month learning how to cope all over again.

His rehabilitation is still continuing at a specialist centre in Epsom, Surrey, where he’s learning to walk on prosthetic legs.

But as far as he’s concerned, life is filled with new opportunities.

He has learned to drive and is determined to get into sport.

And in a remarkable story of triumph against the odds, Craig has exclusively told the Hartlepool Mail: “One chapter might have closed, but at least 10 others have opened.

“I have had my troubles, but I am just cracking on with things. You just have to get on with it.”

“He is absolutely a hero,” said his 32-year-old girlfriend Hayley Willson after hearing he had been nominated for a Pride of Hartlepool award. “He has pushed himself and he is determined to make progress.

“He is so positive. Yes, there are days when he doesn’t feel too good, but 99 per cent of the time he is looking to the future. He thinks ‘I have been injured, but it has opened up other opportunities for me - and I am alive.”

Craig was with the 23rd Pioneer Regiment which went out on a mission to search and deactivate live bombs in Afghanistan. But the terrain was wet and he slipped onto a bomb which changed his life forever.

“Apparently, I ‘passed’ a few times on the way to Bastion,” said Craig.

“It was touch and go for me, but it was harder for my family to deal with. I dealt with it there and then. That’s the soldier’s mentality, but it was harder for my girlfriend and my family.”

All the while, medics were battling to save his life.

Hayley explained: “When the lads do make it back to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, they can die from infections. He was injured in December 2011, and was in the Queen Elizabeth until February 14 last year.

“Then he got moved to a rehabilitation centre in Surrey where they built his strength up and learned to walk.

“He was determined to get into an electric wheelchair and then a normal wheelchair. We are now coming up for a year since he left hospital but he is on his prosthetic legs.”

Craig is just as proud of Hayley for being “a shoulder to cry on, and she has cried on mine a few times as well.”

He added: “She has been amazing.”

After hearing he’d been nominated for an award, he said: “I would not say I’m a hero but it is a great honour.”

Nominations are still being taken for the Pride of Hartlepool awards.

Whether you know a fantastic fundraiser or a community stalwart, we want to hear all about those who deserve praise and have done something special.

Simply fill in the form on this page and send it to us or enter online or on tablet by following the links.

Details of how to get them to us are on the nomination form. The deadline for entries is February 27.

Anyone wanting further information about the Pride of Hartlepool Awards should contact the Mail’s deputy editor, Gavin Foster, on (01429) 239372 or email: gavin.foster@jpress.co.uk

 

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