“It was a typically grey, overcast Belfast day. I was working with the Army Dog Unit and was feeding my dog when two members of the IRA threw a coffee jar bomb at me. It instantly killed my colleague and good mate, Geordie. I was blown to the floor. There was smoke and cordite, and I felt shocked – like I’d been cuffed around the head. But, weirdly, I wasn’t in any pain. I looked down at myself. My left leg had gone completely – it was found 20 metres away, over a wall, still smoking in my boot! My right leg was hanging off, as were several of my fingers. I remember being fascinated that they weren’t spouting blood.
Darren Swift was injured by an IRA bomb in May 1991 while serving with the Army’s Dog Unit in Belfast.
He went through 18 months of recovery at Woolwich Hospital and Headley Court before being offered the chance to stay in the Army. Not keen on “plinky plonky desk work” he opted to be discharged in 1992.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he says. He went on a number of expeditions over the next few years, including canoe trips to the Arctic and a solo ‘trike ride’ around Iceland. After becoming one of the first ex-military amputee skydivers with Alistair Hodgson they won a gold medal at the 2003 British Championships.
Swifty then became an amputee snowboarding pioneer. “Again, I got; ‘You can’t snowboard, you’ve got no legs,’ but I drew a design for some bindings on a beer mat and eventually made it happen. Now I’m at my happiest screaming down a mountain, and have just came back from snowboarding in Colorado with Blesma,”
He has also had multiple successes as an actor, does TV and film extra work, and takes part in ‘casualty simulations’ in which he plays the role of an injured soldier to teach military and emergency service personnel how to respond in critical situations.
Swifty is now using his incredible story to inspire and motivate others in a new project devised by Blesma where injured servicemen and women are delivering talks to schools about overcoming adversity.
It’s a great opportunity for Blesma Members to reach into the civilian world and get into public speaking, or just have their confidence boosted. Talking to a group can help you find your voice again – it certainly did that for me. Being thrown in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking, but it helps with your confidence and self-awareness. This has provided a new career path for me that I would never have expected. You’re a band of brothers and sisters again – you train and rehearse together for a job, and then you go out and do it.