‘I can’t run any more but I am going to walk across a desert,” says injured Yorkshire soldier

In February injured serviceman Ben McComb will spend nearly a month walking across the Omani desert. Catherine Scott finds out why.

Injured serviceman Ben McComb struggles to keep up with his two young sons and yet he is planning to walk 400kms across the blistering Omani desert next year.

The postponed trek will start on February 18 and end on March 9. The team will endure hunger, thirst and extreme temperatures to highlight the extraordinary courage and determination of the men and women who have been wounded while serving their countries and to draw attention to the support needed in their transition to civilian life.

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Ben himself suffered nerve damage while serving as a captain in the Army eight years ago. But it took more than six years before he got the diagnosis and could start rebuilding his life

Ben McComb taking part in the Walking Home For Christmas campaign, in training for his walk across the Omani desert in February. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

“Because the pain was in my legs everyone thought that I had some sort of physical injury in my legs,” explains Ben, now 33, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.

“But nothing seemed to make any difference. It wasn’t a progressive problem it would come in fits and starts which was really hard physically and mentally.”

Ben spent a lot of time at Help for Heroes funded army rehabilitation unit at Headley Court but his condition failed to improve.

“It was very hard. I was still able to work for the military although I did have to change my role. But I had been an endurance runner and very fit and running was one of the things I just couldn’t do any more. I did end up going to some dark places and I did wonder what the future held for me, I was still in the military but as I had no proper diagnosis it was really difficult to plan for the future.

Walking With The Wounded Grenadier Walk of Oman challenge celebrate the official launch. Far right Ben McComb. Image credit: Pinpep / Walking With The Wounded

“My injury has a huge impact on my day-to-day life. I’m in so much pain when I run that I often can’t even play with my children and, because all the sport I used to do involved running, which I can no longer do, I backed away from sport altogether for six years,” said the father of Archie, two, and Seb, six.

“All this pretty much destroyed my mental health in 2014 and again in early 2018.”

Eventually, in 2018, as Ben’s symptoms developed, tests revealed he was suffering from neural impingement and nerve damage in his lower limbs which is incurable.

“It was such a relief to have a diagnosis after six and a half years,” says Ben.

Ben McComb suffered nerve damage eight years ago but it took more than six years to diagnose his condition which causes excrutiating pain in his legs Pinpep / Walking With The Wounded

“Even though I was told it was a condition I was going to have to live with which would need constant rehabilitation, I felt that I could at last start to deal with it and move forward.

“I really wanted to challenge myself, to prove to myself what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.”

He started to direct his new-found confidence back into his love of sport, which included getting accepted on to the UK Team for the 2020 Invictus Games in the Hague taking part in the 50m Freestyle, 50m Backstroke and 100m Freestyle, as well as archery and shot and discus.

“Embarking on the Invictus journey reignited my love for swimming,” he says.

Capt Ben MCComb is urging people to take part in the Walking Home for Christmas campaign

Sadly the games have been postponed to next May due to the coronorvirus pandemic.

Ben also wanted to do something to raise awareness of the plight of injured servicemen and women. He knew the work of the charity Walking With The Wounded and really wanted to join one of their gruelling expeditions.

“I didn’t really feel that I would qualify as my injury isn’t really that obvious compared to someone who has been blown up or suffered other physical injuries. Also a lot of the challenges involve running and that’s something that I just can’t do.”

Then he came across The Grenadier Walk of Oman which initially had been planned for June this year.

“The timing was just right for me and it was amazing to be selected.”

Ben is the only one of the seven-man team to still be serving in the military.

The trek is described as one of WWTW’s toughest challenges yet, as it involves pulling a 300kg cart across the Omani desert.

It is inspired by the epic trek by Wilfred Thesiger. Thesiger, a British military officer, travelled across the Arabian Peninsula in the 1940s, and the trek will see the team embrace the same hostile conditions in the Omani desert.

They will experience extreme temperatures and trek between 20km to 22km per day mainly on sand and setting up camp in the desert. It will take them around three and half weeks.

Sadly the trek was postponed, first to this November, and then again to next February.

“It was very disappointing as we had done so much training, but I completely understand the decision,” says Ben, who last week took part in the charity’s Walking Home for Christmas event. He walked 66kms in the Yorkshire Dales over two days, while other members of the team did similar things in their own regions.

While Ben is looking forward to the expedition he is under no illusion that it will be tough – both mentally and physically.

“It’s a long time and will involve a lot of endurance. It will be hot and we won’t have showers and there won’t be that much food as everything is on the cart which we will have to push and pull. Also walking in the desert is very different from walking in the Dales.”

Ben, who has the support of wife Faye, trains six days a week gradually building up his walks to 60kms.

“We do have support, including medics, and GPS. I think we will be doing a lot of yoga in the desert as that really helps my legs.”

For more information about Ben’s epic expedition visit www.walkofoman.co.uk

Walking Home For Christmas 2020 is seeing a record number of people signing up this year 
to do a walk somewhere important to them, wherever they are.

It is aiming to support 200 
ex-servicemen and women who are socially isolated, struggling with their mental health, homeless or caught in police custody as a result of poor mental health and get them back into employment and independence.

People are being urged to sign up for free at www.walkinghomeforchristmas.com

Receive a Santa hat, face mask and fundraising pack,

Walk as far as is challenging for you, one mile or 100 miles any time from December 10 to 20.