FEATURE: Scole’s Duncan Slater is ready to take on the toughest footrace on Earth once again
Don’t tell Duncan Slater he can’t do something. He will probably find a way to prove you wrong.
The Scole resident, who lives with wife Kim and daughter Lilly, six, served in the RAF for more than a decade. But his life was turned upside-down when he was blown up in Afghanistan in July 2009. As a result of the injuries sustained, he had both legs removed 12 months later.
That hasn’t stopped the 37-year-old. In 2013, he became the first double-leg amputee to reach the South Pole as part of the Walking with the Wounded (WWTW) Allied Challenge alongside Prince Harry.
Earlier this year he attempted to become the first double amputee to complete the gruelling Marathon des Sables (MDS). The Discovery Channel calls it the toughest footrace on earth.
That isn’t just a catchy name or a gimmick — it’s the ultimate test of physical endurance. It is a six-day ultra-marathon, covering more than 150 miles, in the searing heat of the Sahara Desert.
Duncan’s history making was off to a good start in the challenge. But after completing the double-marathon, with just one leg of the race remaining, Duncan had to make what he called at the time one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make, and pull out of the challenge.
It is physically demanding. It is hard. You have to be self sufficient. It got to more than 40 degrees when I was out there — that is hot
He had suffered so much damage to his stumps he was running the risk of them becoming infected.
“The day I came off, I had just done the double marathon, about 50 miles, and I completely trashed my stumps. They were totally blistered, so that’s why I couldn’t finish,” he said.“I was gutted. I had done five of six, so I was gutted because physically, I did not feel too bad, it was just my stumps.”
Duncan, who works for the WWTW charity, told the Diss Express at the time: “I’m going back next year to go and finish it.”
And after a chance conversation with an Italian photographer during this year’s MDS, he believes he now has the game-changing equipment he needs to write his name into the history books.
The photographer had friends involved with prosthetics company Sigil-in. Duncan visited them in Italy in September to have bespoke legs created for the MDS, using technology which gives more comfort to the user.
“They are totally different to anything I have worn before,” explained Duncan. “They are absolutely comfortable.
“It has made a huge difference and I think it will be the difference this time.”
Duncan, who will fly out again to Italy ahead of the race to get an updated version of his legs fitted, will once again this year be running the race with WWTW, which was established in 2010.
It aims to provide vulnerable veterans independence through employment.
“Honestly, the MDS is one of the most enjoyable things I have done,” added Duncan, who said training is well underway for the MDS, which will take place in April 2017.
“When you get out there everyone is in the same boat and it is really enjoyable.
“Anyone who wanted to have a go at it, they should go for it.
“It is physically demanding. It is hard. You have to be self sufficient. It got to more than 40 degrees when I was out there — that is hot.
“You have got to be quite disciplined with your hydration. If you do not take on enough fluid and take your salt tablets you are going to suffer.
“Dehydration is your enemy out there.
“Having said that, there was a guy out there who had done seven Marathon des Sables and he is blind. There was a British guy who had terminal cancer and he was doing it. You bump into all sorts of inspirational people so I’m not going to whinge about being an amputee.”
Duncan admits he “didn’t really think about” making history, as the first double-amputee to complete the hardest footrace on Earth — but he is more than grateful for the opportunity to take part again this year.
“I am very lucky to get the chance to do it, and do it twice as well.
“I thought if I can work out a way how to do it, for something demanding like this, how many other double amputees would be out there wanted to do it but not sure how to go about it?
“If someone wants to do it, I can let them know how I did it myself, push them on to it as well. That would be the best sort of legacy for me doing it.”
That is not the only fundraising Duncan will take part in for WWTW. Today he sets off from London to complete a walk to Norfolk with the WWTW CEO Ed Parker. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the pair will have no money and will sleep rough, all to raise funds for the charity’s Christmas appeal.
Covering 119 miles over four days, they depart the WWTW’s London Office at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and walk to the charity’s head office in Stody, North Norfolk.
“You might ask why on earth Ed and I are doing this. It is simply because we both want to do something meaningful to support Walking Home For Christmas, WWTW’s Christmas campaign, and to help the charity raise awareness of what we do.
“We provide support for a lot of veterans who have been homeless but we have no actual idea of the challenges they face, so we thought this might be an opportunity to try and experience what it must be like for them.
“We are both under no illusion. This is very minor to what those who are homeless face, but we hope we will understand more about the hardship they deal with every day by the end of our walk.
“As a double leg amputee war veteran people expect me to say I am dreading the pain from the miles covered each day but in fact I am dreading missing my wife and little girl, I love bedtimes with my daughter so will miss that, but it’s a small price to pay for raising awareness of homeless and other vulnerable veterans.
“I really hope by what we are doing members of the public will think twice about our veterans that unfortunately fall between the cracks in life and end up living rough.”
For more on Walking with the Wounded, visit www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk