COLUMN: In My View – Zach Ward – ‘Humble Duncan is a worthy recipient of Diss Town Council award’

Duncan Slater.
Duncan Slater.

I made a special request to my editor for the chance to pen a column after our front page last week – the news that Duncan Slater has been made an Honorary Freeman of Diss.

There is a misconception, I believe, that journalists love bad news. Certainly, at the Diss Express, this isn’t the case.

Diss Express reporter Zach Ward

Diss Express reporter Zach Ward

You don’t want to report the sad stories – whether it is a road accident, a burglary, a fire, or an inquest into a death – but, as reporters at a newspaper, it is our job.

Friday’s story has perhaps put the biggest smile on my face in the four years I’ve been with the paper.

When I started in 2013, my former colleague Judy Foster had been covering Duncan’s training, journey and subsequent accomplishment of becoming the first double-leg amputee to ski to the South Pole – joined by Prince Harry, no less.

I was given the task of interviewing the former RAF serviceman for story. Was I nervous? Of course.

He’s possibly the most humble person I have ever met. I have no doubt that his stories of near superhuman strength and desire have inspired, and will continue to inspire, many people

We always do our best to be empathetic and sympathetic when getting words for a story. You have to be sensitive, while not being afraid to ask the tough questions.

I had never interviewed an amputee; nor had I interviewed someone who had served in the armed forces, and sacrificed so much in doing so.

But in all honesty, Duncan made it all very easy. Nothing was off the table and he made me feel completely at ease. He’s been a longtime friend of this newspaper.

He’s possibly the most humble person I have ever met. I have no doubt that his stories of near superhuman strength and desire have inspired, and will continue to inspire, many people.

Readers of the Diss Express will know one thing about the Scole man – he loves a challenge.

Not content with being the first double-leg amputee to reach the South Pole on skis in the freezing cold, he wanted to do something just as miraculous in the searing heat of the Sahara.

The Marathon des Sables is dubbed the toughest footrace on Earth for good reason – it’s a stern test of human endurance, comprising a six-stage ultramarathon of 156 miles where temperatures can regularly exceed 50°C.

He came desperately close in 2016. Injuries to his stumps forced him to retire.

But you can’t keep a good man down. In his bid to make more history, he ventured to Italy for legs which he felt would make all the difference.

We were keen to track his progress – so I emailed him to see if I could organise a chat.

“Ok mate, what time?” his reply read. “I get back from Italy in the afternoon, so I should be back at mine from 1pm onwards. Does that work?”

He was training for one of the toughest challenges of his life, was flying back from Europe, and had the time that day to talk to us – a day before our print deadline for that week.

A regular around Diss, he always has time for you.

And the crowds for when he cut the ribbon on the opening of the renovated Corn Hall tells you enough about what the public think of him.

And while we make a song and dance about his physical feats, he now does some amazing work on the schools programme for the Walking With The Wounded charity.

The adversity, struggle and injuries he has had to overcome, not only to lead a normal family life, but to go on and inspire, raising money and awareness, is nothing short of incredible.

Congratulations, Duncan. This is so well deserved.