Four weeks to go before we begin the first of nearly 6 million feet of walking, 1000 miles in 10 weeks. My brain injury has made me almost unemployable as I do not have the capacity to exercise my brain on a daily, regular basis. I struggle with the speed of processing information; I find executive functioning exhausting (planning, organising, decision making); I suffer from chronic fatigue; I have memory and attention difficulties; severe and persistent tinnitus in both ears; and bilateral hearing loss. This has led to enormous frustration and anxiety over the past 6 years but I have overcome this and I am now really happy and contented with my life. It has taken time and effort to change my mindset but I am now enlightened and enjoy all my life.
No matter how much I have changed I still miss leading, managing, responsibility and at the very least, being involved with people; this was my initial motivation for joining the walk. The team does not have a hierarchy and no appointed leader, and during the team training which we have conducted so far we all have individual strengths to lead the team when required.
I have always been aware of the other expeditions by Walking With The Wounded but have not volunteered as they have been to remote and extreme locations which has seemed to risky for me to consider. My family have been confronted by the fragility of life and I would not want them to see that again, particularly on a voluntary basis! I am also very nervous about danger and don’t like being frightened anymore. I am even scared of fairground rides now; something I never felt before and indeed I used to enjoy the danger and adrenaline rush from these types of activities.
The Walk of Britain appears to be less threatening though I’m not too sure about starting in the highlands of Scotland! This will however be an incredibly hard journey requiring great resilience, determination and effort and I am excited by the challenge; the Walk appeals to my competitive nature. I am really looking forward to this challenge and, in a perverse way, know I could fail but this excites me; it reminds me of who I used to be.
We’ve asked all of our team members a few questions so we can get some personal insight into their motivations and challenges as they get ready for the Walk of Britain. Here are Stewart’s answers:
What is your motivation behind doing the Walk?
What is important to me, is this Walk is not about glorifying those with obvious, physical injuries, this Walk is about showing the variety of, and life changing impact of, other sometimes less apparent wounds. The media focus is on those with visible injuries, those with amputations. Walking With The Wounded want to highlight the many service personnel who suffer with life changing, often invisible injuries and also those who are social damaged as a result of their service – those who are homeless and thpse within the judicial system. All can be helped.
What are you looking forward to most during the Walk?
I look forward to walking in places within Britain I have never set foot in before but I am most looking forward to walking in my home village of Draycott. The Walk is visiting each of the UK team homes and I challenge Draycott to be the most welcoming and vocal of all, the gauntlet is laid!
If there was one person you could choose to walk with you, who would it be?
I cannot decide on one person who I would choose to walk with, if there was only one. I have spent some time considering this and I do not want this to come across as cliched or insincere but the names that keep coming to my mind are Robbie Laws and Gavin Elliott, two of my soldiers from B Company 2 MERCIAN. If they were walking with me they would be alive and not killed in Afghanistan.
What will you have on your iPod to listen to during the long days?
My music tastes have changed since my injury, or is it because I am older, but I now prefer soothing, gentle sounds. I like listening to Classical music and Chopin’s Nocturnes is the first on my iPod playlist, that or ELO’s greatest hits.
In the evening, what would be your ideal supper during the Walk?
My ideal supper during the Walk would be a dish with chicken, garlic, a salad and a side order of triple cooked chips. I like fresh, healthy salads but can’t resist greasy food every now and then
What will you miss from home during the journey?
I shall miss my family, my wife and two daughters, this Walk will be difficult for all of us though I have the advantage of being busy and occupied every day. I know my 4 year old daughter, Annabel, will really struggle to understand why Daddy is away for so long. Whenever I am away from her, my wife and I tell her I am in London (her geography and knowledge of the UK is not great at the moment as you will appreciate) but Annabel does not like London because of this. I imaging she will despise it by the end of the Walk but there will hopefully be some consolation for her when we all meet in London for the final walk to Buckingham Palace.
What’s Your Message to Other Wounded Who Watch You on This Endeavour?
For anyone else who is injured, I hope to show that life can get better, that life can be beautiful, that life is worth living and by changing one’s mindset one can live an incredibly rewarding and happy life.
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