In­jured ex- sol­diers ride length of NZ

Bay News - - FRONT PAGE - By Re­becca Mauger news@baynews.co.nz

Acou­ple of Dave Ben­fell’s clos­est friends are the ad­ven­tur­ous types who are up for any chal­lenge.

They may be dou­ble am­putees, with brain in­juries or burns but they are among the most in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple Dave has ever met.

Dave, from Brookfield, will be meet­ing up­with his ex-mil­i­tary bud­dies from the United King­dom— all of them are se­verely in­jured sol­diers— for an epic bike ride Bluff to Cape Reinga this month.

They will be on pur­pose-built re­cum­bent tan­dem cy­cles for about 18 days, rid­ing from 2500km South to North to raise money for char­i­ties re­lated to exmil­i­tary in United King­dom and Canada (teams are from New Zealand, United King­dom and Canada).

Ateam of four New Zealan­ders are un­der­tak­ing the ride. Each cy­cle has an adapted hand el­e­ment at the front for am­putees and an able-bod­ied per­son ped­als at the back.

Op­er­a­tion Ride 2018was cre­ated by UK char­ity Pil­grim Ban­dits and is the first of its kind.

In New Zealand, the char­ity it is rais­ing money for is the Sol­diers, Sailors, Air­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand (SSAANZ) which Dave es­tab­lished this year.

Dave doesn’twant sol­diers to be for­got­ten.

“There are more con­tem­po­rary veter­ans than there has ever been. And we are for­got­ten. That’s why I started this char­ity, Iwant them to know that we ap­pre­ci­ate their ser­vice. It’s kind of a thank you to them.”

Dave says when men and women leave themil­i­tary, they’re on their own.

“When you leave themil­i­tary it’s an ab­so­lute waste­land of sup­port. It’s hard to leave the mil­i­tary. There’s a lot of poor men­tal health out­comes for mil­i­tary.

“SSAANZ is try­ing to stop the iso­la­tion. Iwant to stop peo­ple from strug­gling. We’re try­ing to cre­ate a pos­i­tive model through ac­tiv­i­ties and ad­ven­ture sports— work­shops such as snow­board­ing, trout fish­ing, hunt­ing, or fam­ily fun week­ends.”

Ac­tiv­ity and sport is what helped Dave re­cover from his in­jury. He was in the first bat­tal­ion Royal New Zealand In­fantry Reg­i­ment from 1996 to 2001. He joined theBri­tish army’s Parachute Reg­i­ment, serv­ing nine years. He has served in North­ern Ire­land, Iraq and twice in­Afghanistan.

He was look­ing for ad­ven­ture when he joined the Parachute Reg­i­ment. Dave says it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and he wouldn’t change any­thing.

Dave was in­jured in 2009 af­ter join­ing the Red Dev­ils freefall team while amem­ber of the parachute reg­i­ment. He mis­judged a land­ing and came in too hard, broke his back and was paral­ysed from the­waist down

for two months, with a five month stint in hos­pi­tal.

As soon as he could get out bed, Dave was build­ing his strength to get fit. It took a year to re­gain his strength.

Dave is look­ing for­ward to see­ing his bud­dies again who are tak­ing part in the cy­cle. One of his friends was deemed the most badly in­jured soldier from the UK in Afghanistan.

“Th­ese guys are ab­so­lutely in­spi­ra­tional. Th­ese are life-de­stroy­ing in­juries if you let it, but most of th­ese guys did not take the route of self pity and neg­a­tiv­ity— they all turned it into a pos­i­tive.”

■ Op­er­a­tion Ride 2018 is from Oc­to­ber 28 to Novem­ber 16, in­volv­ing in­jured ser­vice men and women rid­ing the length of New Zealand. Or­gan­is­ers Pil­grim Ban­dits (although the New Zealand team has un­der­taken much of the or­gan­i­sa­tion) aim tomake it a bi­en­nial chal­lenge to be hosted by the win­ning coun­try in 2020. Op­er­a­tion Ride will cover 150-160km per day (South Is­land) and 110-130km per day (North Is­land). Team New Zealand in­cludes Amy Baynes Rolle­ston from Christchurch, Bill Blakie from Welling­ton, Bruce Black­burn from Christchurch and Dave. There is a fundrais­ing givealit­tle page /givealit­tle.co.nz/cause/op­er­a­tionride-2018

PHOTO/John Bor­ren

In­jured soldier Dave Ben­fell is cy­cling the length of New Zealand, not on a bike like this but a spe­cial tan­dem bike.

One of the tan­dem cy­cles, with Dave’s pal Ben Parkin­son in the front, for Op­er­a­tion Ride.

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