Episode #004

Loss of an arm and shoulder: Dan Richards

Transcript

[00:00:00]

Dan: Hi I'm Dan Richards, and 12 years ago on 31 May 2009, I was involved in a motorcycle accident, and I lost my right arm and my entire shoulder as well. 

Claire: Hello, and thank you for joining us on The Silent Why. We're your hosts, Claire Sandys. 

Chris: And Chris Sandys, and we're on a mission to find 101 different types of loss. 

Claire: In this episode, we meet Dan Richards.

Dan: I remember when they said; unfortunately, after six and a half hours of surgery we were unable to save your arm and shoulder, I remember looking over to the right side of my body, and where shoulder should have been, was the pillow. There was nothing there. 

Chris: Age of 23, Dan had a horrific motorbike crash, which resulted in the amputation of his right arm and shoulder, and the subsequent loss of his military career.

Claire: But it wasn't just the loss of the arm that took him to the darkest place he'd ever been, he also had to face the loss of his identity, self-worth, and career. 

Dan: Looking back on that moment now, that was the moment I accepted my situation for what it was, that I'm going to be a man with one arm for the rest of my life. I'm not defined by having one arm, I'm defined by how I choose to live my life.

Chris: You'll get to hear his story, which takes him from a place of considering suicide, to competing at the Invictus Games, and starting in Naked Beach on Channel 4. Dan shares his approach to his recovery, using goal setting and share determination. 

Claire: We know you'll find his energy is infectious as we did. And there's also some practical chat about cycling with one arm. 

Dan: Yeah, so I'm Dan, I live in London, and I was once at one time in the military, I do a lot of cycling now, and I suppose my military career came to an end after quite a bad, not quite a bad, a very bad, motorcycle accident shortly after returning from Afghanistan, which three years afterwards ended my military career, but yeah, life's been a bit of a character-building exercise since that point up until today, chatting to you guys. 

Claire: So, why don't you tell us what took you into the military? Cause that's quite a specific career choice. 

Dan: The military for me was always a childhood kind of dream, if you like, my father was in the military. So, I used to see him going off to work every morning in his, in his uniform and his military combats. When I was eight years old, I said to Mum and Dad; when I'm old enough, that's what I want to do. I'm going to be like Dad, I want to join the army, and I knew exactly who I wanted to be. And so having that direction, and goal, and determination at a young age, I suppose, a mental clarity and freedom, really to kind of navigate my, my younger years.

Claire: Did it live up to the dream? 

Dan: Yeah, it did. I think, yeah. I suppose I joined the military kind of not know what I wanted to do. I just want it to be in the military. So, I wasn't really that fussed if you like, as to what I do in the military I just wanted to be in the military. Yeah, it did live up to the dream, I did some pretty cool things with my time in the military. 

Chris: Small boys across the Western world may have grown up with Action Man figures, but you obviously had real life action men around you, so you were seeing in reality, people jumping out of planes and driving military vehicles. And obviously that's quite clear, it's quite obvious as to how that becomes infectious. What was the process like of applying and then being selected and finding that you have a place now you've been welcomed into the military family? What was that process like? And how long did it take? 

Dan: So, the process of joining the military all-in-all took me 18 months, which is a bit longer than I anticipated. So, my, my original plan was to, for argument's sake, was to finish my GCSEs on the Friday and then go and start basic training on the Monday, like literally straight out of school, straight to the military. And so, I actually walked out of school at 15, so my birthday’s in the summer holidays, so I left school at 15 whilst everyone else was 16, so I actually walked out of school at 15 in the middle of a religious education class, and I walked three and a half, four miles to the army careers office, and sort of said, yeah, I finish school soon, I want to join the army, to get the application started now, but I had to get my mum's consent because I was under 16. I actually got in trouble for that. I finished school. I hadn't applied to any colleges. So, I went and worked full-time, at my local Sainsburys. I failed selection on the first try, on my hearing. I had grommets in and out of my ears from a young age, so I spent 18 months having hearing tests done, and on the second time I met the physical standard, I met the medical standard. On the 4th of April 2003, I went and sort of read my oath of allegiance, left home for the very first time at the ripe, old age of 17. 

Claire: Did it feel young? To be leaving and doing all that sort of thing? 

Dan: I didn't feel young, I suppose. you know, at 17 years old, most teenagers at that age kind of think they know everything, don't they? I think the reality of leaving home for the first time was the first thing that kind of shocked me. I'd never been away from home any longer than a weekend, really, up to that point. So, I've got homesick to start with, and then you're kind of just thrown into the deep end of basic training. And the idea of basic training really is to break you down and it's, it's all just mental games essentially. And then mould you into the person that they want you to be. So, a reliable team player. So, so yeah, so everything you're used to sort of pre basic training gets thrown out the window. 'Your mum doesn't live here!' is kind of what they say to you. Ironing, making your bed in the morning, and stuff, but ironing to a standard which is completely alien and folding things up, and having locker layouts. I mean, you'd have these locker inspections most mornings and you'd have things folded up and they'd come in with a piece of A4 paper, and the things that are folded up, and they'd put them next to your shirt and if they're so, I mean, even if they're like a millimetre out, it's going out the window or it's getting thrown out. I remember thinking at the time, what on earth have I got myself into, but I thought, no, stick with it, this is what I wanted to do. And essentially, I'm living the dream, aren't I? Though it didn't feel like it at the time. I went off to my regiment, I ended up working with horses, reason for that, I mean, I knew nothing about horses, at the time, reason for horses, it was kind of, sort of, something that my dad said; was that, you know, obviously you were joining the military, you were joining the army, make sure wherever you do, you get yourself a trade so that when you come out, you've got something to fall back on. And so, I joined the Royal Artillery, and horses was something that the artillery offers as a regiment, so it's called the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, and I just said, what trades are there? And they reeled off a few, and they said, farrier. I said, what's a farrier? They said a blacksmith, and I was like, say no more, I like the sound of that. I can do that when I leave the military, did some research into it, worked out that if I leave the military whether it's after 4 years, 10 years or 22 years, I've got a career, I can make quite a bit of money doing it, I can retire relatively early having my own business. So, the only sort of caveat to that, if you like, was that the regiment I joined the King's Troop, doesn't deploy on operations, it doesn't do any of the, the green army stuff as a regiment, and there were things that I wanted to do. And I wanted to do an operational tour, I wanted to do adventurous training. Personally, I couldn't justify being in the military, and even only once, never deployed on operations, never doing any green army stuff. So, I went off to Afghanistan in 2007, came back in sort of the middle of 2008, and then towards the end of 2008, I went off trekking through Nepal and Himalayas. So, pre-May 2009, it was looking quite good my career, I'd done what I wanted to do, I've let my chain of command know that, you know, I'm in the King's Troop to be a farrier, I've done both sort of prerequisites to the trade I want to do, and this is the only reason I'm here is to be a farrier. If I can't do that, then I want to be transferred out. And that was accepted. Went off do Windsor Castle Military Tattoo, early May 2009, and then we had to get Queen's birthday parade out of the way, that's kind of seen as the last sort of major ceremonial parade that goes on. And I said, once we've done the Queen's Birthday, or Trooping the Colour, as it's also called. Once we've finished that we can get you back into the stables, the Lines, and sort of work your way towards the forge where the farriers work. And so, I was sort of; Brilliant. Everything's sort of back on path now.

I did a full dress rehearsal of the Queen's birthday parade on the 30th May, 2009. Had my dad and my grandma come to watch, and the following day I finished work on the Sunday afternoon, went out on my motorbike, on the way back to the barracks, woke up four days later in hospital, my arm and shoulder amputated, amongst other injuries as well. So, I've got no recollection of the accident whatsoever, don't know how it happened, don't know why it happened. All I know is after speaking to the police is, that I was going around sort of a long sharp corner in the outside lane of the dual carriageway and slammed the brakes on, read into that what you want but I really can't tell you what happened, and there's no cameras of any description to sort of say, or show what happened. 

Chris: So, four days from the sounds of it and in a coma, or unconscious, and then a whole different story began from that point on. I think things felt like they're going according to plan before that, and then that all got thrown out the window. What do you remember about those first few months of accepting what had happened and coming to terms with it?

Dan: I was put into a coma in the road by the paramedic, who's now my best man at my wedding, so we're really good friends now, but just the injury alone was quite severe, he expected me to die on the way to the hospital, it was that bad. He just made me comfortable and expected me to pass away in the helicopter, on the way to hospital, but it wasn't to be obviously. I don't remember waking up in hospital straight away, but I do remember, kind of, shortly afterwards, I've got a very sort of vague memory, I mean, I was on all sorts of drugs, I remember the doctor and his registrar came in and did the whole; 'Mr. Richards, you've been in a horrific motorcycle accident, you're very lucky to be alive.' And when he explained the injury to me, I was like, oh yes, ok, I am. I had two broken ankles, my left arm had fixators in it, because I'd smashed that to pieces as well. I'd amputated myself on-site, they spent six and a half hours trying to reattach it, I think after six and a half hours, they were like, you know, we'll have to amputate it because a lack of blood supply to the limb itself, and damage that was done. So, when they amputated, I mean, I did pretty much 95% of the work for them, and they got the chickens out the drawer, and cut the sinews off and that was done. I remember when they said, but unfortunately after six and a half hours of surgery, we were unable to save your arm and shoulder. I remember looking over to the right side of my body and sort of where shoulder should have been, was the pillow. There was nothing there. And so, I got a little bit upset, I mean that's a massive shock to the system, and I was 23 years old at the time. I remember, I do remember looking around the room and everyone was obviously upset. I mean, quite a few, my mum and dad were there, and some, representatives of the regiment were there. And I remember the registrar, and the nurse being there, and I just sort of got her attention, and I just said; Er, is the plumbing still attached to working? And she said; That's absolutely fine. And I said; well, nothing else really matters then, doesn't it? There's people worse off than me. And that's what happened, yeah, it got a few laughs. Looking back on that moment now that's the moment I accepted my situation for what it was, that I'm going to be a man with one arm for the rest of my life. At the time, I wasn't thinking, oh, brilliant, this is brilliant, this is nothing, I going to get over this. 

People ask sometimes like, well, where did you get that mindset from? And I put a lot of it down to being in the military. I mean, you're sort of trained, it's instilled in you in the military to be able to get yourself out of a situation by using your own sort of initiative, and using what's around you so you're facing an obstacle, well then find a way of getting over it or going around it. And I suppose I just went, there are people worse off than me, there really is. And the first goal I ever set was winning my independence back. I mean, they wheeled me into a toilet and a commode because I was non-weight bearing, and said, when you're finished pull the orange cord and someone will come in and clean you up, and I just went; I'm not having that, you know, if I can't, sorry to be crude, but I said, if I can't wipe my own arse, with the means to be able to do so, then I need to have a word with myself. And so, I spent an hour and a half in the toilet, getting ready to go back to my ward. I needed my independence back. I was right hand dominant to start with, so it's ironic as to how much is involved in being independent, because there's a lot more than writing and tying shoe laces and doing buttons up and eating and stuff. And so, I didn't know at the time, how important goal-setting would become to me later on in life, until definitely years down the line. I'm going to be a man with one arm for the rest of my life now. I was righthand dominant, I now left-handed, you know, not by choice, I had to start learning stuff left-handed and I thought, well, being in hospital was kind of the perfect opportunity to do it, because I've got nothing but time here. So in-between visiting hours, rather than watch sort of, you know, whatever was on the little TV I'd be learning to write. My hand at the time was in a cast, so I had to become very dextrous with my fingers. I remember they let me out for a few hours with mum, we went to a shopping centre, in an electric wheelchair, mum went into a bookshop and said, I need an Early Learning writing book, the guy goes; What age is it? She said; 23! [laughs] So what I would do is, in-between visiting hours, I was doing things like learning to write, and my sister bought me a pen with a grip on it for left-handed people, and even that, how do you hold a pen left-handed? And then once I sort of got a little grasp on writing and holding that pen, I'd be like, right, I'm going to write the first 13 letters of the alphabet. And I got it to a point where it was legible, to me, and I'd write the last half of the alphabet, then I started writing my name. And so, one goal, of a massive goal, was broken down into small little goals. Then doing buttons, I wanted to do a shirt up, but could only get so far up, okay, well get halfway up then, and so on. So, it's breaking goals down into little goals. I never realized how significant, important, goal-setting would become to me, later on in life.

Claire: Yeah. I can't believe how motivated you were so early. Is that, would you credit that, to the military training or is that just partly your personality as well? 

Dan: I've always said a lot of how I initially approached, and how I still approach things, boils down a lot to the military, a bigger percentage of that comes from character. They say that character doesn't come from adversity, it reveals it. I quite believe that. 

Claire: Obviously there's a grieving process there, you know, it's a huge loss to wake up and suddenly have one arm when you had two. I'm imagining there was a lot of stuff you just thought, oh, I'll do this, and then there's this sort of, I can't do it, because I physically can't do it. Are you as strong emotionally? How does that process work when it comes to coming to terms with it on an emotional level? 

Dan: You know what, I accepted my situation for what it was, in hospital. You know, looking back on it now, sort of jumping forward to it today, I suppose it was meant to happen is the best way of looking at it. I think, accepting that situation for what it is, like you're forced into a changed situation, and accepting that situation and the boundaries, if you like, that I had, I suppose, afforded me the mental capacity to work on other things. So, if you look at a problem from a third person perspective, from the outside looking in, if one thing's in the way, if you're looking at face to face your sole focus will be on that one thing. Whereas if you look at it from a third person perspective, take yourself out of the situation and look at it as a whole, I certainly found learning to write again, very frustrating, now I could, if I wanted to, got really frustrated and pissed off because I couldn't write my name properly, or what I chose to do was, stop doing that, and watch TV or something, or read a book or whatever. And then what you find is, you go back to doing it, then funnily enough, you'll do it. You'll achieve what you want it to do initially, but were too consumed and frustrated to achieve it the first time.

Chris: So, the wider picture, what have been some of the activities, do you think, that have been among the hardest that you've had to really persist with to learn to do again? 

Dan: Coming out of the military was probably my toughest challenge. So, I stayed in the military for three years, post-accident, before I was medically retired or medically discharged. And I was looked after by the military charities; Help For Heroes and Blesma, and so on. And then the Royal British Legion there's a whole tally of them, small and big charities, that sort of helped me out along the way, but coming out of the military, like no longer being paid to be in the military anymore, was what I found the hardest to deal with. My last day in the military was the 20 September 2012. The 29th of September I went back home to Somerset, essentially moved back into my room, and I was 27 years old at the time. And I just thought, brilliant I've done, in the three years I stayed in the military post accident, I'd learnt to rock-climb, I'd learned to ride a horse again. I found out I was never going to be a farrier, I worked that one out for myself, and I just thought I'm going to have a bit of time to myself, to unwind, get used to a kind of slower pace of life. And I think after two weeks got bored and started applying for jobs. By August 2013 I couldn't get a job, no one would offer me a job, I had 327 job applications, of which not one led to anything sub basic. Nothing at all. I probably had about five replies that said I ain't got skills or experiences that we require. And I was applying for a jobs as a cleaner at one point, cos I was living on my savings. And by August, the beginning of August, I remember I had to re-tax, and re-insure my car and my card declined. And I had all this money, as 10 years in the military, it's a perfect opportunity to save money, I had 15 pence to my name. And what I didn't know at the time, was that I was depressed. And I was very much reclusive as well. And my mum and step-dad went out to work one morning, and yeah as soon as they left, about half an hour of them leaving. I tried to hang myself. I was like, what have I really got to look forward to, you know, you get knocked back so many times. I thought if this is what life's got in store for me, like after what I've been through, and kind of accepted, and moved on from and accepted as part of my life, if this is what life's got in store for me, I'd really rather not be part of it. I've been through enough. I got halfway through doing it, suddenly I stopped, and thought what's mum going to do when she finds me? And I just sort of said to myself, I need help. I need to get back to London. And I think what that was, was the loss of the career, but I lost a career, I'd lost my self-worth, my identity, which I kind of worked towards from about eight-years-old, and I just felt like I was a drain on society, I was like living in my old room as a 27-year-old man. Most people my age at 27, are getting well established in their careers, they're probably settling down with starting their own families, probably on the housing ladder by now as well. I've got no money, I've got no job, I can't get a job, and I live in my old room essentially with mum and dad. What have I really got to look forward? My rock bottom became the foundations of which I've rebuilt everything from scratch from the ground up, and ironically after that I was offered a job as a chauffeur in London, with a start-up company, called Capstar at the time. But I had no money to move back to London, so I ended up living in a caravan. I mean, this caravan, it was awful. The roof leaked, it was borderline being homeless, but it was my home. This is how bad it got actually, (and I wouldn't change any of this either). I think the worst it got was two weeks before the end of the month, so halfway through the month, waiting for the next payday to come. I didn't have enough money to go shopping. So, I would go to the corner shop and I would live on custard cream biscuits and cups of tea, because I just figured half a packet of biscuits for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it's going to keep me full until next time. And that, I mean, it's a very unhealthy way to live, but I mean, beggars can't be choosers. What's ironic about this, is that I took the car home that I was chauffeuring in, which was an estate Jaguar XJL. Sometimes it was a Range Rover, sometimes it was a Bentley. And I'm living in a caravan just in between Windsor and Heathrow, living on custard creams. In winter, I couldn't afford the gas to keep the fire on so I was going to bed, fully clothed, and an old army sleeping bag, and my duvet pulled over me. And I found I was working seven days a week to stay out of my caravan and spend time in the car, but the people that I was driving, I had in the back of my car, some of the world's most successful people, celebrities at one point, you know, at certain occasions, like award ceremonies, and, I was one of eight drivers at the time in the company that was a seconded to the Royal Mews, so was driving diplomats and all that around. It was like Yin and Yang, living completely destitute and poor, driving the rich and famous around. But I think in 2014, I was like, what's making these people tick? Like what's giving them their get up and go? This is clearly working for them, and if was working for them, you know, it can work for me. And so, I would cherry pick kind of personality attributes, well they do this on a morning, I knew what these people were doing, I'd have to pick them up and take it to the gym or something, or, they were going to be at the gym and then drive to the city at this time. I was like that's what they're doing, I'll do that. I'll get up early, and go for walk or go for a run, before I need to be at work. And then just through doing that, I kind of had a bit of an epiphany. And I just went, any opportunity I get, I don't care what it is, I'm just going to say yes, and whether I can do it or not is irrelevant. I'm just going to say yes, cos you never know what it can lead to. And so, 2014 I qualified as a scuba diver in Egypt, with a great charity called Deptherapy, I learnt to fly a plane with Aerobility. I gave wing-walking a go. And then sort of towards the end of 2014, an opportunity came around with an organization called Row to Recovery, and they were putting together the world's first, all disabled, crew to row unsupported 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. I mean went, yeah, go on then. Why not? [laughs] I threw myself into rowing. I knew nothing about rowing, other than what you see on the TV. So, I remember sort of looking on the internet, like how the Olympic rower’s train. So, I would fit into my weekly routine, when I finished chauffeuring, or had a gap chauffeuring, I'm going to the gym, and I'm going to spend two hours on the ergonomic rowers nonstop, because that's what the routine was for the row. I was tearing my hand into shreds and then go into work covered in plasters and blisters and so on. 

[00:25:05]

And I've got to the final five, of which four were chosen, and I wasn't one of the four. I did my final selection with three of the four selected crew, that one thing, even though I was unsuccessful, became my greatest achievement. Because fundamentally I learned more about myself, and what I'm capable of, you know, in spite of what external factors were facing me, a lot of people would say, what's the point you've got one arm? You're never going to get it, you know, are you having a laugh? I'd say, do you know what, this is why I'm doing my life, what are you doing with yours that's so fantastic? Cause I'm dying to know. And they all go quiet. And, literally off the back of that phone call: unfortunately, you've not been selected. I just went, in the next breath, well I need something else to do then. And I had a bike, I had a push bike, and I got on this bike and I bought a cheap and nasty, indoor, turbo trainer. Cause I'd never been out on a bike with one arm outside. And so, I just couldn't afford any of the fancy stuff, but the internet was free, Google was free, YouTube is free. Like, training, not for anything in particular. And then a ride came up with the London Nightrider, and the charity that took me skiing (rebranded to Supporting Wounded Veterans), took me to Switzerland for free holidays to learn to ski, and they had tickets for this ride. And they took me on a free holiday, and I always believe in giving back whenever you have the opportunity to do so. So thought I'd raise some money, for the next lot of veterans coming through. Did the London Nightrider and then I also got a spot on another bike ride. And the plan, for the two bike rides was, well I'll finish the London Nightrider this weekend, and this other bike ride across France, that's the weekend after. The Nightrider started on the Saturday night, the Friday before it kind of hit home that this ride across France wasn't the weekend after, it was the Monday after the Nightrider finished. So I went, do you know what, this will make a good story somewhere down the line, this will be my introduction to cycling. And so I just trained and I trained and I did both rides, I got to the end of France. I'd never watched the Tour de France and every time I'd ever been to France, in a car or a bus, you can see for miles cos it's pan flat. And I was like, yeah, it's fine. If anyone ever tells you France is flat, they're lying. But I remember all the hills I went up in France, I was like, I can get off of and walk if I want to, and there'll be a nice view at the top, I'll see for miles, but I wouldn't have earned it, I wouldn't have achieved it. And so, the lesson I got from the rowing was there's no shame in giving up, but running parallel with that, there's no success in either. You don't have to win everything to be successful, and actually I've learned more from my failures in life than I have from any of my successes. But when I got to the end of France, 400 miles later, the sense of achievement, that I got out of doing that, I thought; 'I'm going to be a cyclist.'. What can I do in cycling that's something to write home about? Invictus Games 2018, let's go. I then also just moved into this flat in South London where I live now.

So that goal of getting back to London, kind of, came to fruition, as well. And that took me four years, I couldn't afford the fancy kits, I couldn't afford this flash turbo trainers, Zwift membership, coach, nutritionist and all that stuff, but one thing that's always been, and always will be free, is the internet. A bit of drive and determination as well to compete at the Invictus Games and that, that became a two-year goal and I just broke it down into so-and-so, and I started using Instagram actually to track my cycling and my progress, to put pictures on and stuff, with no intention of it leading anywhere. I got contacted by an organization called Zebedee Management, who are modelling agency and did some pictures, and then they offered me a modelling contract. So, whilst I'm working towards the Invictus Games, I get signed by a modelling agency that represents the marginalized within media and fashion and everything, sort of advertised towards that kind of industry. And my first job was a Lloyds Bank TV commercial, that led to Naked Beach. 2018 now, still training for the games. And then I remember, literally they're a day apart, I got the phone call from, the TV production company; 'Congratulations, Channel Four would like to cast you for Naked Beach'. And then the following day I got the email saying, 'Congratulations, you've been selected for the Invictus Games. 2018 was very much 'pinch me' year.

So, for me, the Invictus in Sydney, that was my line-in-the-sand. And I knew I needed to not, not turn my back home or disassociate myself with the military, but I think, if you look at your life, like a book every chapter has to come to an end before you can start reading or writing the next. And it was kind of an epiphany I had whilst watching of all things, Only Fools and Horses. I went, I don't want to be an Uncle Albert, I don't want every single story about my life, certainly when I get towards the end of it, to be 'during the war', 'when I was in the army', 'back in my day'. I don't want to be just known as Dan Richards, oh, that guy that was in the military. No, no. I was in the military it's contributed enormously to my life and it's given me a lot, core values to live by and so on. But the army, the military, doesn't pay my bills anymore, it doesn't contribute to my life anymore. I'm a big believer in that, what doesn't contribute to your life, whether it's a thing or someone, if it doesn't contribute to my life positively, then why should it be part of it? So, my line-in-the-sand was the Invictus Games, and I thought that was a perfect opportunity to represent my country as a member of the military, one final time on international platform, to then focus on the rest of my life and the next chapters that I'm going to write. I didn't win any medals at the Games. And that's not why I went, I went to the Games to end the chapter, but also because I wanted ownership of that piece of work of my life. If I apply myself to something, can I achieve it? Yes, I can. Brilliant. Okay. I've done it. And that's what the Games for me were. 

So, the Games was in October, so I went off to Mykonos in Greece, filmed Naked Beach for five weeks. Whilst I was there, I mean, it was a busy filming schedule. I went, love this. This is what I want to do. How the hell am I going to do this? Because I know nothing about this industry, but I don't care, I'm just going to throw myself into it. Came back from Greece was made redundant from my full-time job, and I just went, you know what? I'm going to take that as an opportunity. I'm going to take a year off, I'm going to throw myself into the industry, if it becomes an overnight success or career, brilliant, but I used that year to kind of build up the experience, bridge a gap, without a full-time commitment. I worked in a coffee shop at weekends. When I wasn't over at the coffee shop, I was out training on YouTube and Google, and I was earning peanuts. I'd signed on, I was on benefits, I was single as well, so I had nothing kind of interfering with what I want. I was working on myself really without any sort of external factors. Did the Invictus Games in October, came back, got offered my job, which I do now, my full-time job I do now, which is sort of project management, IT. And I'm still doing the modelling on the side which is quite, quite good. So, I was juggling a lot of things. 

Claire: To be doing something like Naked Beach, and then Invictus Games, and then working in a coffee shop, I can't imagine a more varied life than that really. 

Chris: Explain briefly what Naked Beach is. 

Dan: Naked Beach kind of began life as a social experiment, conducted by a man called Dr. Keon West, together with a lady called Natasha Devon, who found that people with a low opinion of themselves, and there was three factors, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and body image. And these people, that initial experiment, when they're put around normal, air-quotes there, bodies, they're kind of preconceived misconception of what perfect is, lowers their barriers and they're able to address their demons. That's what Naked Beach was. And it was kind of to show that this research does actually work.

Claire: I really loved that program. But was it as rewarding for you guys as hosts as it was for those that were on it? 

Dan: Rewarding? Yeah, it was extremely rewarding, for me as a person. So, every week we had three guests come out to Mykonos, where we filmed it and the villa was done up like a retreat, if you like, so we were the hosts that were running the retreat. We did activities through each week. It was very rewarding and eye opening to see the changes in the guests, and I was very new to the body confidence scene at the time. I didn't even know it was a thing, at best. I thought it was something that only women did. Because you only ever heard women talking about it. Seeing the changes from when we first met the guests, at the poolside, to seeing them at the end, when they left, in such a short amount of time, without actually doing anything to them, other than showing them that perfect doesn't exist, like what you see on social media isn't perfect, there's no perfect image, seeing that change is really rewarding. I actually learnt quite a bit about myself, my own image, whereas I obviously come to terms with my own image, and accepting it before that. I suppose I've got that from cycling. It was a very, very rewarding experience but I made friends for life out of that, the guests and hosts, 

Claire: Had you by that stage, or did you ever have to kind of work through a journey of fully accepting the change in your body when you lost your arm? 

Dan: Yeah, do you know what? So, I remember like, so underneath here, [knocking sound on plastic], that's my prosthetic, underneath that, there's nothing, like so a quarter of my body has gone. So, I've got no shoulder whatsoever. I've got about two inches of a collarbone left, and a quarter of my shoulder blade, so I can count all my ribs up on right-hand side, right up to the top of my neck. I used to compare myself to other men, certainly sort of men that had muscles, big chest and so on. And I'd want to be that, I wanted to be that when I had both my arms, no matter how far advanced medical science gets, I will never get that. And so, because I couldn't have that, I would have such a low opinion of myself, I would wear clothes that were too big for me, to hide the outline of a prosthetic. I mean, I used to wear a prosthetic arm. I don't anymore, I've not done for about three or four years now, but that prosthetic arm I used to hide behind, but people would stare, so I thought I'd give them something to stare at, so I used to wear this all singing and dancing prosthetic hand, which was pretty good, but I couldn't actually use properly. And wearing a prosthetic, as well, because so much is missing, I don't have an anchor point, so if I had like a residual limb, I would just put my limb into the socket and I've still got the movement of say a shoulder, but because so much was missing, the prosthetic itself was made bigger underneath, to spread the weight out. So, I'd look like a pack-horse underneath my clothes, and I remember I used to hate summer, because within the first five minutes of walking out the door, I'd be sweating. I sweat through my clothes, and if I was going to work on the tube, by the time I got off the tube, my shirt looked like I'd I run to work. Then I'd got to sit like that for eight hours. So, I'd be stinking before I even got home. I used to hate it. If I didn't wear the arm, I'd wear clothes, t-shirts and jumpers and so on that were too big to hide the outline of my prosthetic, because it's not real, it's not mine. Because of that, because it was too big, because I've only a little stump, the jumper wouldn't fit, the t-shirt wouldn't fit, because the armpit of the t-shirt would overhang. So, then I just looked like a sack of potatoes. So, I had a low opinion when it came to wearing clothes as well. So, I had a low opinion naked, I had a low opinion of myself fully clothed. I just can't bloody win. And in the end, I went to a beach and I just went; you know, what, I took my hoodie off, looking around, no one was looking, took the t-shirt off, and the prosthetic off. I went into the sea and it was so like, it was so, what's the word? 

Claire: Releasing.

Dan: Releasing! There you go. I just felt free. And actually, somebody came up to me as I was coming out of the sea, and they were like, 'Fair play to you mate. A lot of people wouldn't take off their t-shirt, and you're taking your prosthetic off and just living life.' That person didn't know that's the first time I'd ever done it, but it kind of solidified for me that no one actually really cares. It looks a bit strange people ask, and if anything, they're going to ask questions. Perfect icebreaker. And then from that moment on, I was like, do you know what? I don't need the prostate arm. So sat under my bed for like two years. I took it back and I said, 'Look, this hand is worth £10,000 brand new. I was very fortunate to get, because I used to be the military, so I've had help to get it. I said, look, if there's somebody less fortunate that can't afford it, give it to them, let them have it. But they can't do that with prosthetics. It's just like, you take it back, you can't really give them to other people. They use it as a model that people can take away and use and see if they get on with it so on. And that's kind of how I came to terms with my image. I just thought confidence was confidence. You go into the room and; Alright guys and girls! I thought that was confidence and I just thought confidence was that. There's so many different layers to confidence, body confidence, social confidence, all the other confidences that are out there. I had a name and I've always said, if you could put a name to something, you can own it. And I suppose in a roundabout way, I was, able to kind of address my demons.

Chris: I want to ask you a question, but just a few quick-fire thoughts on my mind. I'm wondering when we talk about the cycling, cos I cycle and very much take for granted having two arms. When you're cycling, how do you signal right?

Dan: You know what, if it's safe to do so, I take my hand off the handlebars and I literally, I just put my hand behind me and cars know. Otherwise, I rode horses know for 10 years! 

Chris: And do you have a bike specially designed for, you know, so a left-hand brake will affect both tyres, cos obviously on just a standard bike, the right-hand brake will, will break the front tyre. So, have you got a special bike setup to be able to bring it to a stop? 

Dan: So, the bike's not specially made, it's off the shelf. I've got an adaption, but before that, I literally, I moved, well I didn't, the bike shop did, but moved the right-hand lever on to the left-hand drop bar. So, on a racing bike, or a road bike where the handlebars curl round, the bit at the bottom's a drop bar, I moved it round there. But it just meant that if I needed to do an emergency stop, I had more leverage of the back breaking the front. So, I used to pull them both together, but I mean your little finger, or your last two fingers on your hands aren't really that strong. So, if I needed to do an emergency stop, which luckily, I never had to, I'd have to jump off, but that never happened.

Chris: Even with your motorcycle training, back before the accident, you would have been trained in, percentages of breaking front and rear, different circumstances, you know, going round corners, a bit more rear, bit less front. 

Dan: The way my bike works now, the brakes, and the gears, the way the brakes work, is that I've got an adaption called a Problem Solver. I'd love to been on the board meeting when they named it that. So, it's, it's essentially, it's a cable splitter that one cable goes into the adaption, two come out and it sounds a lot more technical than it is, but it pulls the back brake fractionally quicker than the front. So essentially, it's like 70/30, and that's how it works. And the gears are electronic. So, I've got a, what's called a DI2 made by Shimano and that's set up for something they've got called Synchro Shifts. So essentially, it's like a semiautomatic car, for ease of conversation. So, I control the cassette on the back wheels up and down. And then once the chain goes so far down the sprockets and the back wheel it's set up to change gears at the front, so the chain is at the front, the front derailleur will automatically pick up, or go down, or vice versa, depending on where I am. 

Chris: I think I understand it, Claire's probably thinking, what I'm lost 

Claire: I'm just politely nodding. 

Chris: A few times. You've mentioned help. Have you found the help from others that you've needed to be part of this journey, do you think? Or has it mostly been you finding the answers out yourself? 

Dan: Yeah. Do you know what? Help is out there, but I think fundamentally before anyone else can help you. You need to be willing to help yourself. Like if you, if you don't want to help yourself, then the greatest help in the world is of no benefit to you whatsoever. It's just empty words and actions. Isn't it? So, I suppose the things I've done they've all become mentors, if you like, you know, a mentor won't give you the answers of what needs to be done, but they'll give you things and they'll say things to you, and you'll kind of in your own mind, work out what needs to be done to achieve an outcome.

I'm not self-made at all whatsoever. I've had lots of help from other people, and other organizations. To ask for help when you know, you need help, I think that's courage, that's brave because you're vulnerable, and I think there's nothing more courageous, nothing more masculine than asking for help when you need it. And actually, losing the arm and shoulder, I suppose, is a gift. Isn't it really? I look at it as a gift, the best thing that happened to me. Because I've done more with my life like this, had it never happened.

Claire: I'm just wondering, did you ever at any point ask the question why? Why me, why now? Why this, why this arm? Was ever a question that factored into your thinking?

Dan: At first, yeah. Like why me? Why has happened to me? But I suppose looking back on it now, why me? Why not me? And that's kind of how I look at anything. The arm and the shoulder, like coming off, has afforded me opportunities and experiences, and I've done things and it's realigned my life and how I choose to live it. And I think that's the key word there, how I choose to live it. And that's completely undefined. You know, I might do things differently to somebody else, it doesn't mean it's wrong. So, at first yeah like why me? Why this happened to me? What have I done to deserve this? And I think, you know, and that's kind of a precursor to a negative mindset. Like, why me? Why am I the victim here? I really don't want to live in a victim-hood kind of mindset and so on. So, I'm not defined by my injury, I'm not defined by having one arm, I'm defined by how I choose to live my life and how I live my life, in spite of what's happened to me. 

Chris: We ask all of our guests a bit of a strange question, but it just taps into elements, and some of this, will be just summarizing again, some of your key points, your key learnings. But the question that I'll ask is, what's your Herman? 

Dan: My Herman. I suppose that you can't wait to life is life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy. Yes, if you lost your arm or your leg last week, it's not the end of the world. You know, and I, I always said from the off there's people worse off than me. I don't live with cancer, I don't live with terminal illness, I don't live in poverty, I don't live in a war-torn country, I've got running hot war, I've got a family, there's so many things and factors, that could be completely different to me, that would define my quality of life. You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore, before you decide to be happy, I guess life will beat you up, but you've still got dreams, right? So that's my Herman cake.

Claire: We think the quote that Dan mentioned earlier sums him up so well; Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it. 

We're really grateful to Dan for his honesty and his willingness to bear his soul, in this way, you can follow his adventures on Instagram search for @theonearmedwonder.

Thank you for listening to The Silent Why, we'll be releasing another episode next week, on a different topic of loss, and if you haven't checked out our previous episodes, go and have a listen to those. We've done one on loss of a marriage, the loss of parents to dementia, and our own story on childlessness and losing something that you never really had in the first place. 

Chris: And find out all about this and more on thesilentwhy.com or on social media by searching for @thesilentwhypod. 

Claire: We want to finish with a quote that sums up many people who have faced adversity and come out stronger.

They are the words of Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese American poet:

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars."

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