In May 2007, Lance Corporal Jonathon "Frenchie" Le Galloudec arrived in Basra for a six-month tour of duty alongside his friend, Corporal Rodney Wilson. In the early morning of 7 June, Frenchie and Rodney's patrol was part of an arrest and detain operation in the Al Atiyah district.
During the mission they came under attack and Frenchie was shot in the spine. 'Initially it just felt like I'd been hit in the back by a sledgehammer,' he recalls. 'It took me completely by surprise. During the rescue attempt, Rodney ran 50 feet or so, under heavy fire, to save me. He picked me up and started dragging me to safety. When we were about 20 feet from cover, I heard a massive thud and I fell to the ground. That's when I knew Rodney had been hit.'
Tragically Rodney Wilson died instantly, making the ultimate sacrifice so that Frenchie might live.
Frenchie was operated on at the field hospital at Basra Air Station. The bullet had struck his spine, ripping through his gut and a kidney. Later, he was flown to Birmingham's Selly Oak hospital. He was then transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where he stayed for nearly three months.
Despite the doctors telling him he would never walk again, Frenchie stubbornly ignored them, and two months after he was shot he took his first wobbly steps. He remembers: 'The first time I walked I was in tears, my mum was in tears, even the nurses were in tears - I just didn't think it would ever happen for me.'
'I was told that I would always be in a wheelchair so walking out of the hospital, three months later, and proving them wrong, was one of the best days of my life.'
He then spent 18 months at DMRC Headley Court where he learnt how to walk again and adjusted to life as a wounded soldier: 'The beauty of Headley was that no matter how badly your day was going, you would see someone who had no legs or who was badly burnt and you'd realise that everyone is struggling. Ultimately, we'd give each other hope.'
It would be all too easy to sink into a dark depression and lose control of your life. However, Frenchie pushes himself to be the best he can be, feeling he owes that much to Rodney: 'The only way for me to honour Rodney's memory is to live my life to the full.'
In October 2009, Frenchie was part of a group of five wounded soldiers who took on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Help for Heroes. After an arduous seven days, Frenchie and his fellow climbers reached the summit. 'The conditions were freezing, with temperatures around 17 degrees below,' he describes. 'It was such an emotional moment for me, as I realised that in so many ways I'd been able to overcome my disability. I thought learning to walk again was hard, but getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro was so much harder!'
'It was painful, tough and at times I wanted to quit, but ultimately the challenge gave me a new lease of life and a thirst to do more to help other soldiers in my position.'
Frenchie didn't stop there; in 2011 he climbed to Everest Base Camp with a group of Help for Heroes fundraisers, and he competed in the 2013 Warrior Games in the US with 35 fellow wounded athletes.
An avid sportsman from a young age, he has embraced every opportunity to take part in adaptive sports. From winning two bronze medals at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in 2014 (in swimming), to representing his country as a defenseman for the Great Britain Sledge Hockey Team, Frenchie is a firm believer in the power of sport to change lives.
Additionally, Frenchie passionately shares his story with other wounded Service personnel and veterans, school children, and people in organisations and business in his job as an inspirational speaker. He does this because he firmly believes that everyone should know that there is always life beyond injury.
Why Sledge Hockey – in Frenchie’s own words.
I first discovered Sledge Hockey in Whistler, Canada in March 2013 and from my first moment on the ice I discovered a sense of exhilaration, adrenaline and a freedom that I hadn't felt since I was injured; in that precise moment I knew that I’d not only found my sport, but I had also found my passion.
When I returned to the UK, I made it my mission to get fully involved with this new sport I’d discovered. I now play for the Cardiff Huskies, and I am also proud to represent my country again on the GB Sledge Hockey Team.
The more I have played this sport, the more I love it. After all, I don’t know any other sport where you come off the ice after two hours completely exhausted but grinning from ear to ear – and ready to do it all over again.
I want as many of my fellow wounded as possible to feel that same exhilaration, adrenaline and freedom I felt, and still feel, on the ice. And I firmly believe that an injury, whether it is physical or psychological, shouldn't be a barrier to that.
The Endeavour Fund hopes that the Sledge Hockey team will be able to put forward a squad for the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, Canada where this sport will feature for the first time in the Invictus line up.
For more information please contact:
Jon via Victoria Nicholson – firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credit: "Sledge hockey player" by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo - http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/080402-F-3961R-263.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sledge_hockey_player.jpg#/media/File:Sledge_hockey_player.jpg
- John Le Galloudec
“The Endeavour Fund has shown me that anybody with any ability can achieve anything they set their sights on. That is why it is my dream is to get an Endeavour Sledge Hockey Team together so we can enjoy the banter and camaraderie we so loved in the military, whilst we play the most inclusive sport I know – Sledge Hockey! …”