Trooper tells of his Atlantic row
An army sharpshooter who lost both legs and several fingers when he was blown up in Afghanistan has spoken movingly of how he recovered to row the Atlantic ocean.
Trooper Cayle Royce, from the Light Dragoons, was severely injured when he was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) on his first tour of duty, in Helmand province in 2012.
The 27-year-old, from Dartmouth in Devon, was "clinically dead" and had to be in an induced coma for 48 days while medics battled to save his life.
On coming to, Tpr Royce said he believed the extent of his injuries had been a hallucination, and so was unaware for four days that he had lost both legs.
But after overcoming the trauma, the fitness enthusiast willed himself to recovery, and this week completed the arduous Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
It took Tpr Cayle and his three team mates a little over 48 days to complete the 3,000 mile race - almost the same length of time he spent in a coma following the blast some 18 months earlier.
Speaking from the finish line in Antigua, Tpr Royce spoke of how he went from near-despair in the aftermath of the blast, to sheer elation as hundreds of people lined Antigua's historic English Harbour yesterday evening to whoop and cheer the Row2Recovery team home.
He said: "I had always been keen on sport but after the blast I thought that side of my life had gone - it was over.
"I was super keen on taking part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge but I didn't think anyone would want me on their team, that I would be too much of a liability.
"So when the team came forward and said they wanted me, that was a huge confidence boost. It felt like I had a purpose."
The Row2Recovery team included fellow amputee Corporal Scott Blaney, as well as able-bodied competitors Captain Mark Jenkins and Tpr Royce's long-term friend and colleague Captain James Kayll.
The four would work in two-hour shifts, with two rowing at the same time.
Atrocious conditions meant the quartet spent much of their time rowing in oil skins to avoid getting soaked, and sleeping in tiny sweatbox cabins.
Both injured army personnel were forced to leave their prosthetic limbs in England, due to the corrosive qualities of salt water.
Tpr Royce said there were mixed emotions for him as the crew docked at the finish line to a hero's welcome.
"The reception in the harbour was just incredible, we never expected such a turnout," he said.
"I think there was a sense of immense relief.
"But all that time I spent in the hospital bed, I had been longing for the camaraderie and the chatter you get when you're with your friends in the forces.
"The medical treatment I got was an individual thing, I missed having a team focus.
"On Row2Recovery, I used to really enjoy the evening meals on deck where we would sit around sharing war stories, laughing and joking. To have had that again, when I thought it would not happen, was fantastic.
"In that respect, it was disappointing that it was coming to an end when we reached Antigua."
Tpr Royce was barely a month into his first Afghan tour when he was blown up next to a poppy field.
He walks with prosthetic legs and had to undergo extensive surgery as well as careful rehabilitation.
Tpr Royce said he can still remember with real clarity how he took a near-fatal step onto an IED - and the real-life hero who saved his life.
"We had been in an irrigation ditch - it was slushy muck, absolutely stinking.
"I got out for a couple of steps and that was it, bang, I was thrown in the air.
"I immediately lost my legs. The right was mangled and the left was gone.
"My face and hands were burning, it was just excruciating.
"When you see yourself in that state, you don't really think you're going to have your dancing shoes on again any time soon."
Tpr Royce's colleague, Sgt James Scott, sprung from the ditch to pull his friend and colleague from the huge crater caused by the explosion, taking him to safety where he received urgent medical care.
"He saved my life, make no mistake," said the injured soldier.
"I remember trying not to scream because the last thing you want your friends to do is to hear you die.
"I can recall a little bit of the journey back to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, but then I was put into a coma and it was all a bit of a blur."
Extensive bruising to the heart and a burst lung meant medical staff had to spend a long time coaxing Tpr Royce back to fitness.
However he was so weak after coming out of the coma that he had no idea of the full extent of his injuries until four days later.
"I think everyone assumed I knew I had lost my legs," he said.
"But I got phantom feelings - I could feel my toes, even though they weren't there.
"It made me think I had imagined or hallucinated my legs being blown off.
"It was only when I had my bed tilted up a little after four days that I realised they weren't there. That was a low point. You realise then that you're not going to serve in the same capacity."
But having learned of the opportunity to join his colleague Capt Kayll on Row2Recovery, raising vital funding for Help For Heroes in the process, Tpr Royce seized the opportunity.
"It gave me purpose again, something to work towards," he said.
His bravery has seen him introduced to senior members of the royal family - including an infamous conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh.
"He's great, he really gets the military banter because he's an armed forces man," said Tpr Royce, recalling the time Philip jokingly suggested swapping his prosthetic limbs for wheels.
"He got a bit of stick for that and that was completely uncalled for," said the soldier.
"You have to be able to take the mickey out of yourself.
"If you stress about your situation and take it too seriously, it will wear you down and send you to the grave.
"Some people are a bit awkward when they are around me, they don't know what to say.
"But I'm just blunt and honest. If a kid stares or asks me why I've got no legs, that's fine - they're curious. I just tell them I didn't eat my vegetables. Their parents will give me a smile. You have to make a joke of it."
Tpr Royce is currently based at Headley Court in Surrey where he is undergoing more rehabilitation, but he has already set his sights on his next challenge - flying a microlight over Kenya, in November.
He said: "I don't regret going to Afghanistan. I regret stepping on the bomb.
"My life has changed now - it's just a case of getting on with things."
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