Ex-sol­dier’s amaz­ing win

Caernarfon Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Gareth Wyn Wil­liams

A WAR vet­eran has de­scribed how his love of surf­ing helped him over­come hor­rific in­juries sus­tained dur­ing a sui­cide bomb­ing in Afghanistan.

Yianni Karak­ousis, who now lives on An­gle­sey, says that tak­ing up the sport once again has helped him over­come trauma, men­tal ill-health and his se­ri­ous phys­i­cal in­juries.

Serv­ing as a Cap­tain with the Royal Engi­neers, the now 30-yearold fa­ther-of-one suf­fered hor­rific in­juries in a sui­cide bomb­ing in Afghanistan, in April, 2013.

The pres­sure of the ex­plo­sion had forced Yianni’s lungs al­most to the point of burst­ing, frac­tur­ing most of the bones in his face and caus­ing trau­matic brain and spinal in­juries.

Yianni said that his first thought fol­low­ing the blast was that, if the ex­plo­sion didn’t kill him, his wife prob­a­bly would.

The keen surfer’s sec­ond thought was that he would prob­a­bly never ride a board again.

Ini­tially re­cov­er­ing at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal, in Birm­ing­ham, he’s since been sup­ported by mil­i­tary char­ity Help for He­roes, who en­cour­aged him to use his love of the sport.

De­spite his in­juries, that hasn’t stopped him com­pet­ing, tak­ing part and win­ning the Open Cat­e­gory at the world-first Adap­tive Surf Cham­pi­onship in the Conwy Val­ley re­cently.

He was one of 16 surfers, all ei­ther serv­ing mil­i­tary or vet­er­ans who have bat­tled phys­i­cal or men­tal in­jury, who com­peted for the top spots in the event at Surf Snow­do­nia.

Yianni said: “For me, surf­ing is a mind­set.

“That de­ter­mi­na­tion to get out when there’s a big set com­ing, that de­ter­mi­na­tion to push your­self to im­prove - it’s that same mind­set you need to drive your­self for­ward in your re­cov­ery.

“It’s been a long road for me to get where I am now, and not easy by any means, but surf­ing has been a cen­tral part of it.

“I re­ally en­joyed the Surf Snow­do­nia cham­pi­onship, and be­ing around peo­ple of a sim­i­lar back­ground to me was a big part of that en­joy­ment.”

Grow­ing up miles from the sea, but al­ways fan­cy­ing pick­ing up surf­ing, it was af­ter be­friend­ing some surf­ing stu­dents while at Harper Adams Univer­sity, in Shrop­shire, that he joined them on a trip to Hell’s Mouth, near Aber­soch, and found he -en­joyed it.

“But those trips were few and far be­tween as, be­ing stu­dents, we couldn’t af­ford to go very of­ten,” Yianni re­called.

Dur­ing his time in the Army, he had no time to re­visit the sport, only do­ing so when he was dis­charged, ini­tially mov­ing to Aberdeen.

His love of surf­ing and there­fore de­sire to live near the sea, is one of the main rea­sons that he and his wife (who is from Gwynedd) set­tled on An­gle­sey.

Andy Ain­scough, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Surf Snow­do­nia, said the Adap­tive Surf Cham­pi­onship was a cel­e­bra­tion of the vet­er­ans’ courage and re­silience.

“We’ve worked closely with Help for He­roes since we launched in 2015 and reg­u­larly spon­sor vis­its from for­mer ser­vice­men and women who use surf ther­apy to re­cover from men­tal and phys­i­cal in­juries,” he said.

“See­ing the trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect that surf­ing has had on these guys has been re­ally pow­er­ful.

“We wanted to show­case and cel­e­brate that with a com­mu­nity event, and it was great to have such a good crowd turn out to cheer the guys on.”

Around 1,500 spec­ta­tors at­tended the free event, which is likely to be­come an an­nual fix­ture.

Be­low, Welsh Guards cheer on the ac­tion and all 16 of the surf com­peti­tors with or­gan­is­ers Yianni Karak­ousis (cen­tre) suf­fered hor­ren­dous in­juries while serv­ing as a Cap­tain in the Army - he is pic­tured here re­ceiv­ing his Open Cat­e­gory award at the...

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