Injured Yorkshire soldier Ben Parkinson joins 1,000-mile charity cycle ride

Inspirational Yorkshire paratrooper Ben Parkinson, the most severely injured UK serviceman to survive the Afghanistan conflict, is today setting off on what will be a 1,000-mile charity cycle ride as part of a team of amputee military veterans and firefighters.

Inspirational paratrooper Ben Parkinson, from Doncaster. Picture: Scott Merrylees

The 35-year-old, of Bessacarr in Doncaster, is taking part in Operation Ride UK, a gruelling challenge which will see 10 amputee veterans join firefighters in riding from John O'Groats to Land's End over 13 days using push and hand bikes and specially-adapted tandems.

It aims to raise awareness and funds for military charity Pilgrim Bandits and Motor Neurone Disease (MND) - the incurable condition one of the challenge's organisers, John Chart, a 49-year-old veteran and ex-firefighter, was diagnosed with a year ago.

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For Lance Bombardier Parkinson, who lost both legs and suffered brain damage when the armoured Land Rover he was travelling in hit a mine in Helmand Province in September 2006, the quest also comes at the end of a long period of shielding during the pandemic, like many seriously injured people in the UK.

Veteran and ex-firefighter John Chart, 49, who was diagnosed with MND a year ago and has inspired Operation Ride UK. Pictured with wife Arlene.

He will join the team for the first half of the journey, powering a bike by hand cycling - having hand-cycled thousands of kilometres at home - with a volunteer responsible for steering and balance.

L/Bombadier Parkinson, who is a patron of Pilgrim Bandits, said: "It's been a long time in lockdown and I haven't seen anybody for months, but I always knew the boss would have something planned for us as soon as it was possible.

"I can't wait to be part of the team again.

"There's always someone struggling and now it's my chance to support John to get him on his way. I know we will all have an amazing time. It's been too long."

A firefighter for 26 years before his MND diagnosis, John said he is determined to raise awareness of the condition which often has a life expectancy of three to five years of symptom onset.

He will be leading his team of ex-military and serving firefighters and using a specially-adapted tandem alongside various companions including his 14-year-old son Christopher.

"Motor Neurone Disease is a demonic disease. It's like an assassin; it sneaks up on you and it's like someone's got a remote control and it's just closing my body down gradually," he said, adding: "I also want to say to people don't ever give up. You've got to keep going."

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