Getting his life back on track!
The Royal Tank Regiment, and the wider British Army, was Murray Hambro’s passion for the 12 years he served in it, but his military life – and much else beyond – was shattered in Afghanistan in 2010 when the Warthog armoured vehicle he was travelling in drove over an IED.
As a result of the injuries he sustained in the blast, Murray ended up having both his legs amputated below the knee.
In the years that followed worse was to come as he struggled mentally with the aftermath of injury and his discharge from the military, and then lost his young son to a sudden illness. These tragedies would be enough to break most people, but through a combination of hard work, smart decisions, counselling, and some help from Blesma, Murray is now leading a fulfilling and active life once again.
He races motorbikes, runs his own gym, and competes successfully in international Crossfit competitions.
“I’ve realised that I have to keep busy,” he says. “If I sit and think, I can focus on the negative side of life too much, and could get into a mindset I wouldn’t be able to break free from. I find my Crossfit gym such a brilliant coping mechanism for everything. For an hour or two, I can’t think about what’s going on in the outside world. I always say to my gym members: ‘Whatever you’ve got going on stays outside.’ I live by that.”
For several hours, Murray let us inside to talk about getting blown up, getting back on a bike and getting involved with Blesma…
What got you into the military?
I grew up on a council estate in East Sussex. I was a bit of a toe-rag and got tangled up with the wrong people. I had a life-changing moment when a gun was put to my head – that’s when I knew I needed to get away.
I joined the Royal Tank Regiment in 2002 and loved it immediately. I’d only been out of the country once before I joined the Army so the travel was great. I was posted to Germany and Cyprus, where the
camaraderie was brilliant, and in 2007 I did my first tour of Afghanistan. I was in Sangin, engaging with the Taliban – it felt exactly like what the Army was all about.
How did you get injured?
It was in 2010, on my second tour of Afghanistan. We were using Warthog armoured vehicles to support 2 Para in Helmand. I was the commander of my vehicle, sitting in the turret at the top as we were transporting stores along the Helmand River.
One day, we were heading back from our last run, sticking to track discipline. We’d been over this particular field before because I had seen a farmer ploughing it and I remember thinking: ‘If he’s happy enough to plough the field, I’m happy enough to drive across it.’
But it contained an IED…
Yes. To be honest, we must have already driven over it several times – it could have been there for weeks or years – but at some brace. I remember being taken out for a Christmas meal by the hospital staff, and never having felt so many eyes on me – I was sitting in this huge wheelchair with braces and leg boards. I didn’t like it much, but knew I’d have to get used to people seeing me as a double amputee.
How was Headley Court?
I went in 2011 and it was an eye-opener. I thought I was going to be the most injured person there, but then I met triple amputees and guys who had lost both their legs above the knee. I also met double below-knee amputees who were very mobile, so they became my glimmer of hope. I was engaged to my fiancée and wanted to be able to walk down the aisle, so I was determined to walk again as quickly as I could, and was able to do that within three months of the injury.
But you were deteriorating mentally…
At home I was struggling. I’d wanted to stay in the Army, but I was being medically discharged. I had no job and felt I had no purpose – I didn’t know what to do. I also started suffering from anxiety and was waking in the night with cold sweats and heart palpitations. I’d be sitting around over-thinking and over-analysing things while my fiancée was out at work. It was a difficult time with some very low moments.
And then your son became ill…
We had two sons, and our youngest got Leigh’s Disease, a condition with no cure. From the age of 18 months he went from being a happy, healthy boy to needing to be fed through a tube. His health deteriorated and he eventually passed away.
Was it during this terrible period that Blesma started to help you?
Yes. I needed to focus on my son but we had other problems, too. Our house had been renovated very badly, so I reached out to Blesma to see if they could help sort that out so I could focus on my son. Later on, my marriage came under pressure – my wife felt that I hadn’t mourned our son properly – and Blesma helped me with some counselling sessions, so I’ve got nothing but love for the charity.
And Blesma has supported you in your new endeavours?
Yes. After the anxiety, I realised I needed to stay occupied, so I bought a motorbike. My surgeon told me I should probably find a different hobby, but I ignored that advice!
I’ve always loved bikes but I had to work out how to ride without my feet! I was invited to a British Superbikes event where I met a Navy guy who asked me if I wanted to start racing. Would I rather do 40mph on the road or 200mph on the track? It was a no-brainer and, with help from Blesma, I’ve been racing ever since.
You also set up your own racing team?
When my insurance policies paid out I had enough money to start an injured servicemen’s race team, which I called
True Heroes Racing. So when I wasn’t at Headley, I was learning how to race and fix motorbikes. It’s been great.
And you opened a Crossfit gym just before lockdown, too…
In 2017, I qualified as a personal trainer, and I really started to get into Crossfit. I didn’t like working for the big gyms so I became self-employed, and Blesma helped me buy enough equipment to start my own business. I’ve since got into competing, and Blesma helped me with flights to compete in America. Last year, I managed to win a competition in Miami, which was brilliant.