Sunday, May 10, 2009
Soldier told he would never walk again finishes London marathon
Phil Packer, who lost use of his legs in an Iraq rocket attack last year, crosses finish line two weeks after start
It took 13 days, but Major Phil Packer, who lost the use of his legs in a rocket attack in Iraq in last year, finally crossed the London Marathon finish line after midday today.
Exhausted but ecstatic, Packer - who was told he would never walk again after the accident in February 2008 - was surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and wellwishers as he was awarded his medal by Sir Steve Redgrave at the gates of St James's Park on The Mall.
After he crossed the finishing line, he said the feeling was "bitter sweet" as it came soon after the news of four more deaths in Afghanistan. "There were others who are coming back injured and my thoughts are really with their families at the moment."
He said the injured would be treated at the military rehabilitation facility Headley Court for which he is raising money.
"A year ago I never thought this would be possible and there are so many to thank," said the Royal Military Police officer. "Stanmore hospital and the armed forces have been outstanding to me; I am walking because of them - I also know how very lucky I have been to have this mobility; so many have not.
"A lot of publicity surrounds me and I hope for the right reasons; this is for those that cannot be here now; this marathon attempt is and has always been for them."
Packer completed his Herculian task - covering the 52,400 steps of the 26.2-mile course at a rate of two miles a day, the maximum distance he was advised to attempt by doctors - to raise a million pounds for the charity Help for Heroes, which provides financial assistance for wounded British servicemen.
The regime took the soldier, who has served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, between four and six hours each day. It is, he said, the hardest thing he has ever done.
He admitted suffering increasing pain in his back over the past fortnight and being sore and "shattered" at the end of each day, only to have to make himself return to the streets the next morning.
But despite his immense effort, Packer has yet to reach his £1m target. As he crossed the finish line today, the soldier was still calling on wellwishers to help him reach his goal: "I am left with £380,000 to raise," he said. "I am still asking people to help me make the £1m. Today, for me, is all about those that need that million."
During his journey as the last of 36,000 competitors left on the route of the marathon, Packer has gained the support of an emotional public as well as of more high profile names, from the prime minister and Prince Charles to Judy Dench, Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell.
But, he says, the most important thing is reaching his fundraising target. "So many thoughts are running through my mind but the most important thing is that although the marathon is over, I have not finished working to reach that £1m goal."
To donate to Phil's website, please go to: http://www.philpacker.com
Guardian, 9th May 2009