A bomb severed his legs, but Darren Swift still stands tall.Darren Swift (Swifty to his mates) was a big man. Six feet, two inches tall and broad-shouldered, he possessed the perfect infantryman's frame. Then, the IRA dropped a coffee-jar bomb on him and in an instant he was 4ft 6ins. Both his legs were severed above the knee, and some of his fingers sliced off. He was 26.
The thing about Swifty, who has not worn artificial limbs for many years because they interfere with his chosen sports, is that he is still a big man. It's his personality.
Wading through deep snow outside the railway station in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, he booms a greeting. He wears Snapps – "short non-articulated prosthetic pylons" – carbon-fibre supports and cups covering his stumps. What he loses in height, he gains in sporting flexibility.
"You can't canoe safely in artificial legs – they can drag you down – they aren't much use when you are skydiving and you are much more stable without them when you're snowboarding," he explains.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in 1991 that the world changed. Lance Corporal Swift of the Royal Green Jackets was on his third tour in Northern Ireland, working as a tracker dog-handler. He and his fellow handler, Terry "Geordie" O'Neill, were feeding their dogs when two IRA men dropped the bomb from a fire escape overlooking their base.
"It was like I'd been winded," he says. I just plonked down and looked at Geordie and called to him but he was obviously dead – the pressure of the bomb had collapsed his chest. I just sat there. The dog food cans had sliced some of my fingers off and my right leg was hanging off but still connected, just. My left leg had gone completely. I had a cold feeling in the core of my body, like a dread, and I thought, 'I'm going to die.'"
Troy, his dog, who was only slightly injured, scurried off for help.
"The lads came running but they couldn't come straight up to us because of the danger of a second device. I remember this colour sergeant. He was about 30 metres away and shouting, 'Don't worry Swifty, you'll be fine.' I was shouting, 'Course I'm not going to be ----ing fine. Look at the state of me. Shoot me! ----ing shoot me!'"
Discharged from the Army, he was forced to find a new purpose. That came with family (he is 44 now and has a seven-year-old daughter, Izzy, with his wife Sarah) and sport. He has cycled solo across Iceland and canoed there. He prefers open canoes to kayaks, and introduces injured servicemen to the sport on expeditions in Scotland and France organised by the Not Forgotten Association. "I love it," he says. "The peace, the pleasure of the journey."
Once, in Iceland, he found himself trapped under an upturned white-water raft. "I thought I was a goner. If I had my legs on I would have been proper brown bread. You can't canoe in them. I wore legs for five years but I got rid of them because of the outdoor stuff. I'm having a new pair made now – much more advanced than the ones I was issued with."
Introduced to skydiving by a fellow ex-Army amputee, Al Hodgson, he was soon hooked. He was told he would never be able to solo skydive because he couldn't land safely – advice he ignored. "The only difference is we land on our bums – we skim in."
In 2003 the pair confounded the sceptics by taking gold in the British skydiving championships. After 600 jumps he moved to snowboarding. As part of his work with the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA) he introduces injured servicemen to skiing and snowboarding during annual trips to Colorado.
"I can't do jumps because I have no suspension, but I can keep up on the slopes," he says. "If I spin off, all I have to do is grab the snow rather than fall down."
Swifty is designing snowboard bindings for double amputees and is near to perfecting them with his seventh prototype. He needs a manufacturer who will not rip off disabled snowboarders.
The former Green Jacket has put his disability to good use in other areas, working as an extra in film and television, and with Amputees in Action, which puts on training sessions for soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Amputees, including ex-servicemen, are ''bloodied up'' to resemble fresh casualties, providing a taste of what may occur in the field.
Eighteen years after losing his legs he still searches for challenges. His prescription is simple: "With a little ingenuity and bottle you can do it."
- It isn't too late to donate to the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association, one of The Telegraph's Christmas Charity Appeals. For details on BLESMA or to donate, visit www.telegraph.co.uk/charity