David Henson MBE is a highly successful parasport athlete, who took up athletics following a life-changing incident whilst serving in Afghanistan almost exactly 10 years ago. Having stepped on a hidden landmine, the impact of the blast led to the amputation of the lower half of both his legs. Following an extensive rehabilitation program, he began walking with the aid of prosthetic legs several months later.
From this moment on, Dave was determined to make the most from his ‘new life’ and has since gone on to represent Great Britain at numerous global events, winning medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, the 2017 IPC World Championships in London, and the 2016 IPC European Championships.
At the inaugural Invictus Games in 2012, Dave was chosen to be the British team captain, and he competed in three events, winning gold in the 200m. Three years later, he was the proud flag-bearer for Team GB at the IPC European Championships.
Dave was awarded the MBE in 2014, en route to becoming one of our most recognisable - and popular - parasport athletes.
Today, he works for Imperial College London, where his role involves biomechanical analysis to help in the development of prosthetic limbs - a cause very close to his heart.
Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, and she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.
Hi, I'm Donna rattle and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solve problems, supercharge brands, and raise profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Hello, and welcome to this next episode of the winning awards podcast. Today I have with me Dave Henson MBA. Dave is a highly successful parasport athletes who took up athletics following a life changing incident while serving in Afghanistan almost exactly 10 years ago. Having stepped on a hidden landmine, the impact of the glass led to the amputation of the lower half of both of his legs. Following an extensive rehabilitation programme he began walking with the aid of prosthetic legs several months later. After his departure from the army, Dave was determined to make the most from his new life and has since gone on to represent Great Britain and numerous global events, winning medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, the 2017 IPC World Championships in London, and the 2016 IPC European Championships. Then at the inaugural Invictus Games in 2012, Dave was chosen to be the British team captain, and he competed in three events winning gold in the 200 metres. Three years later, he was the proud flag bearer for Team GB at the IPC European Championships. Dave's achievements have led him to be awarded the NBA on route to becoming one of our most recognisable and popular parasport athletes. Today, he works for Imperial College London, where his role involves biomedic biomechanical analysis to help in the development of prosthetic limbs, of course, which is, of course, very close to his heart. So welcome, Dave, and thank you so much for being with us here. Say,Unknown:
thanks for having me. It's great to be here.Donna O'Toole:
Okay. So your story, Dave, we've, you know, I've had the pleasure of talking to you before, and so I've heard your story. So I want you to take our audience through it today, because it's so inspirational. And it really highlights what can be achieved in the face of adversity, after nearly essentially losing your life for your country. So please, can you just talk us through your kind of how this began your military career and how you ended up serving for the war engineers? Was it always an ambition of yours to join the forces?Unknown:
Yeah, so I guess, in a way, it was always, always an ambition, although I actually first applied to join the Navy as opposed to the army. But that's mostly based on the fact that my dad was, was working on some of the technology that goes into into warships at the time. So just sort of followed down that route. Yeah, I went through the interview process, and they said, I was ready. It's only to come back later. But yeah, probably since I was about 1516. When we had the careers days of school, I felt that this was a path, I wanted to take a route that I wanted to go down. And that was really solidified as I went through university. So I went to university up in hartfordshire, to study mechanical engineering. And from then on, really, the ambitions for the army specifically started to really, really come to a head and I ended up going through the application process to become an officer in the Army during my second year of university, and I was fortunate enough to spend the entirety of my third year of a four year degree in the army. And so I sort of got a university placement, which were really quite rare. So I got paid to go and travel the world, essentially for a year as a student with very little real responsibility, which was, yeah, as a really fantastic opportunity. And then I went back to university and finish my degree and then went through the full training process another year in the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and then commissioning into into the Royal Engineers at the end of 2008.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah. Wow. So how long was it between how long were you in the army before you had the accident?Unknown:
I had managed to Grand three and a bit years from so. The first time I joined was 2005 to 2006. And then I finished a degree and then started properly for the proper career route in 2008. January, so yeah, January 2008, through to February 2011 when I got blown up so not not really very long at all.Donna O'Toole:
What a shocker. So but before your accent own. I remember you saying that you weren't particularly spoiled. You're interested in physical fitness. And now it's kind of ironic then that after such a big impact, you decided it was time to get sporty now, so obviously take us through the journey of, you know, if you're comfortable to talk about sort of what happened, and then how that sort of changed your attitude towards sport then coming out of the army.Unknown:
Yeah, so sport itself is quite a big part of military life, but definitely more on on the amateur level. So usually, once a week, you'll get allocated time in your, in your regimental diary as it were to go and go and take part in sport. I was the this willing officer, one of the swimming officers at my regiment. And swimming is something I've done quite a lot when I was younger. But in terms of sporting ambitions, I had none I was well aware that had two left hands as it were, I was not particularly coordinated. And they were all of those kinds of things I did like the physical fitness in is one of the things that attracted me to the armed forces in the first place. But yeah, sporting wise, it was not particularly good at all. But as, as I went through, you know, the short career that I did have, things obviously changed. As a result of the instance, I deployed to Afghanistan in October in 2010, to go and do an operational tour with the Royal Engineers, and my specific role was was was called a royal engineer, search advisor. So I was in charge of a small team of soldiers, and it was our job to go out and look for improvised explosive devices that had been hidden in the ground, it was the the Taliban's weapon of choice really in the battle against the international coalition that was in Afghanistan at the time, these are sort of small, or large and discriminatory, explosive devices which get buried in walls, floors, roadways, and your wherever a soldier or a vehicle is likely to travel without just booby trap it with these, these quite nasty explosive devices, and they're really causing quite a lot of damage to our to our force at the time. So we had a bit of an uplift, in search capability, and I was part of that uplift to, they started to send a lot more people out in this specialist role to go out and look for improvised explosive devices. It was high risk role. And, and, and it cost me my legs in in February 2011,Donna O'Toole:
the risk when you were when you took that on? Do you think the risk of such an impact really hits home with you when you take on that type of role?Unknown:
Yeah, it did for me, at the time, I mean, I was still young enough to not really pay too much notice to the risk factor, you know, still very much, it's never going to happen to me, that kind of thing. But as I went through my training for this role, you know, a few of my friends were injured or killed in the process. And so it does really bring it home quite quite quickly. So we were, we were very aware of the risks. Certainly within our first week in Afghanistan, from our wider unit, we'd had one death and I think it was three injuries involving one blindness and two people with amputation. So, you know, that was a week of arriving, it was incredibly risky. And we were well aware of that required some significant management on the ground.Donna O'Toole:
And I remember you saying when you had that accident, that the how quickly you were looked after afterwards, and the difference that that made?Unknown:
Yeah, it was astonishing. I mean, we, we, as in the British forces have taken quite a lot of casualties in in Afghanistan, and it's an unfortunate reality of war in that as wars progress, you your medical capability improves, you know, almost month on month as you start to learn the lessons identify what you can do to keep people alive. So when I lost my legs, I had torn Achilles apply to my legs within, you know, literally one or two minutes by my team to stop any any excess bleeding out the helicopter, which is essentially a flying ambulance, complete with the Nisa test, prep you for surgery that had landed 20 minutes after I got blown up. And within 37 minutes, I was on the operating table, which is just unheard of. So all of those things, all of those interventions were in that you that crucial golden hour for life saving. So actually my chances of not only survival, but increased quality of life as a result, or were really quite high.Donna O'Toole:
Amazing. It can make you goosebumps, you're talking about that again. So goodness, you've been through so much, and then so t take us on the journey then what happened after that, because there must have been an awful lot for you too. I mean, you know, obviously wonderful that they were able to save your life. But obviously the tragedy was that you had to lose part of your legs. So take us through that journey and the acceptance for you and then how you You know, you've used that since then.Unknown:
So I'd say the acceptance side of it was was definitely more long term and short term, and probably didn't come into nearly a year after I'd lost my legs. But I think that's really to be expected. So after I'd got to the hospital in Afghanistan, I spent about 36 hours in hospital there. So I was actually quite fortunate because of the interventions which had been applied to me, my injuries was quite substantial, were very well isolated to one place. So it was a relatively clean amputation. as it were, I didn't have any pelvic injuries, no internal injuries, no head injuries. So as a result, I didn't need to get put into a coma. So I was awake in the field hospital in Afghanistan, I got to see my soldiers before I was flown back to the UK, I got to see quite a few colleagues and friends who were out in Afghanistan at the same time, which was really quite refreshing. I remember, I got told off I got torn off several times for this, but I got told off in, in the field hospital in Afghanistan, because my commanding officer took me on my my, my hospital bed, outside the field hospital for a quick cigarette in the back of the hospital. And apparently that's not allowed. Either way. My, my commanding officer when I was back in the UK did the same thing at the hospital in Birmingham. And it's now part of the the policy standard operating procedures that patients are not to be wheeled out of the hospital and intensive care beds for cigarettes. You can thank me for that one. But yeah, yeah, we just starting to get out there, I hated being out, no one likes being in hospital, I just need to move about. So I was in intensive care for about a week back in the UK, and then four weeks on the hospital ward, which was probably one of the more enjoyable times of my life, you know, it's a strange thing. But on the wards, you've got three other people in your room you've never met before, but are in very similar situations. And you form these incredibly close unique bonds. And that's despite the fact that I was an officer and the rest of the guys in my, in my Bay will soldiers from a different unit knew they weren't engineers or anything. But we did form an incredibly close relationship. And that continues now to this day. Yeah, so we went from there from from those five weeks in hospital in Birmingham, it was sort of on with the rehab, I had about two weeks at home on leave between leaving hospital and starting at the rehabilitation centre of the military Rehab Centre. And most of that two weeks was just spent in the gym with my brother just trying to build up some strength and push forward. And yeah, then it was into into rehab, which took about three years, you're in and out, you sort of four to six week block periods where you're just learning to do everything again, from learning to use a wheelchair properly to, you're learning to cook and clean and then learning to walk. And actually I think that's probably where the sporting stuff came from. Because you know, just as in normal military life sport forms a core part of your rehab as well. So at the end of most days, they would allocate time to play sport and whether that's wheelchair or press more non adaptive sports like swimming and you just do it on a day to day basis. So that became normal and it was a way of psychologically and physically rehabilitating you and the people around you by allowing you to focus on something else other than your physical condition. Because really when you're playing sport you're just playing sport and it doesn't matter what sort of state you're in you're just competing you know?Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, fantastic all those great things like endorphins and yeah distraction and focusing on something new must be I can imagine that would be hugely important. So you then moved on and progressed in well a short space of time to becoming an international parasport athlete and you've got global recognition for this performance loads of medals and and you've been to the Paralympic 2016 Paralympics and the World Championships that must have been huge what was the what was the experience like what was the highlights for you?Unknown:
The the experience of that was incredible. So I sort of, I fell into athletics, accidentally, I suppose more than anything. So I sort of made it a bit of a personal ambition that I would pass the the run component of the Army's fitness test before I was medically discharged from the services more just to prove that I still had you know, the fitness that I went in with so I became quite good at running on the running plates and pass this fitness tests and then more or less at about exactly the same time the Invictus Games for London 2014 were were announced and because I become quite good at running I decided to enter into the into the athletics competition in those games and the success of those London Invictus Games LED on to going on to Paralympics at Be a British athletics programme as a as a talented athlete which then led you know in less than less than a year to the 2015 World Championships and then the 2016 European Championships and then the Paralympic Games so it just all sort of happened so quickly I didn't really have time when it was happening to take everything in because as soon as one competition finished it was on to preparation for the next thing I'd given given myself this 24 month period to turn myself around from an amateur to someone who was going to compete at the Paralympics so you're hardly had any downtime in that period it was all focused on on pushing for the Paralympics, but you know, when when the Paralympics had finished their win that race it in Rio was over it's then time to turn around and look at you know, 1000s of people in the crowds my mum and dad are there and just enjoy everything that happened is one of life's really surreal and actually quite defining moments for me Yeah,Donna O'Toole:
yeah fantastic. I can't I can't imagine it must have been incredible. So then you in in 2014 Wasn't it you were awarded the MBA so that must have been a really proud moment for you and for your family. So tell us about that. How did that happen? And how did that feel?Unknown:
Yeah, the NBA was was a complete shock really I got a phone call one day from my boss I was still just about in the military when the when I was awarded the NBA so yeah, it was I still in here I think I was just exhausted so I got a phone call from my boss and he's saying David got some great news he's just been awarded the NBA and I think I told him Fox didn't quite believe that yeah, it didn't go down to Yes, thankfully they still decided to give it to me But yeah, it was that was another incredibly surreal moment I had no idea that I'd even been nominated let alone any anything else but yeah, it was it was a military MBA too you can get sort of different different versions of the NBA you get the military ones in the civilian ones so you know the citation is always rather general so it's for services to the to the military my boss had told me that it's because of the example which I provided during my rehabilitation I you know, I'd been back to work for a bit and I helped some other soldiers get get through some of their difficulties and get over some of their injuries and yeah, so just sort of came as a bit of a shock I certainly don't think I've done anything different to anyone else it's just that someone could be bothered to write me up for the for theDonna O'Toole:
Yeah, but having you know, having a positive role model for a lot of people and someone to help them get through their own injuries or issues you know, would be used important and that's what these awards are there for is to recognise that people going above and beyond you know the call of duty to help other people and that's what you've done date so whether you like it or not the Queen think so.Unknown:
Yeah, that was a special day. Getting that from the queen is good. DidDonna O'Toole:
you did you go to Buckingham Palace? Yeah,Unknown:
I went to Buckingham Palace and actually even though I've been awarded the NBA a few months before, I went to Buckingham Palace in November so it was just after the very first Invictus Games. So there's quite a bit of buzz about it and you know, it just ends up being to the queen and grandson which is quite nice. The success of the Invictus Games, which is great,Donna O'Toole:
I'm sure and how much involvement Did you have with Harry in the Invictus Games.Unknown:
The first one that so the for the first games my role was was more as a as an advisor than anything else. Obviously, I took on the captain to the to the UK team when the games time came around, but you know, when we were going through the planning process from about September 13, all the way through to the games themselves in September 40. Now there were a group of us who acted as a sort of a sounding board to make sure that the games are shaped in a way that was most appropriate for for the competitors who would do to take part and that included speaking about your experiences to sponsors or potential sponsors to make sure that the games had the necessary funding to go ahead. It was really quite exciting actually just a year of business and engagement and experience of things which I had zero experience of before.Donna O'Toole:
Amazing. Isn't it funny though, when these things come about like the Invictus Games and they've never been they haven't, you know, been a regular thing before that you can't imagine them. They're not happening afterwards because they bring so much positivity to so many people.Unknown:
Yeah, I know. Sort of as soon as they were launched, they felt like they've been they've been around for ages and I think that's testament to the way that the games were. Were organised and delivered in that first year in that when they were delivered they felt like they were already in established competition.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, nice fantastic. So um, what's going to keep you driving forward then you What's your next plan.Unknown:
So the next plan so this was, was and is now in action was Project 2020 or 2020 is the year which is actually going to get written off if you like Forget about it. Yeah, so I've always had a plan to finish my PhD and go a bit more into into the development of prosthetic devices. So you know, all the way back in 2011 when I was just learning how to walk, I was really quite shocked about how rudimentary prosthetic technology was considering we're in this 21st century of Mars landings in robotics and that kind of stuff. So I just felt it with the engineering background that I did have an experience as an amputee, I could add some significant value into this space. So I moved away from athletics at the end of 2018. finished my PhD and I started my employment, my sort of second career, I guess, or third career, I don't know how many we're on now at Imperial College in London, where I head up the strategic development of our prosthetic programme. So we have a focus on developing countries. So you know, as bad as my, as I felt that my prosthetics were as backwards as I thought that my prosthetics were in many parts of the developing world did you simply don't have access to prosthetics full stop, you know, if you do, they're generally unsuited for what you need them to do. So we've had a research programme going on at Imperial College for a few years, which is all about trying to equalise that, that delivery of healthcare in this particular space, then it Yeah, and so I head up the strategic development that it's incredibly fulfilling. But yeah, last year was supposed to be out in Rwanda and Cambodia and Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, just none of that's happened, but has enabled us to build these relationships from a distance, which was perhaps not quite so close, I have allowed them to be a bit more broad. So progressing,Donna O'Toole:
so hopefully, fingers crossed, maybe later this year, was just crossing their fingers, aren't they? So it's been such a tough year, the last of it worth more than earring for a lot of people around the world. And from a mental health perspective, it's been really challenging. So obviously, for you, for someone who's had to come across some really difficult challenges, and you've managed to overcome those and or come through those with huge success. What would you say to anyone whose life's been kind of turned upside down maybe by the pandemic, or by anything really, about that sort of positive mental attitude? I know, we were talking before and he was telling me about some research about actually survivors of, you know, significant accidents like yours, and actually how their positivity was really happening to get through. So be interesting to hear your your take on that. And any advice you can give our audienceUnknown:
Yeah, the the positivity when was it was strange as part of a study which I'm involved in both both as a as a research subject, and as part of the advisory group, which helps to steer it. In the research on our on our military amputees, so guys who have come out of combat, with significant limb amputations, they're they're sort of anxiety levels, depression levels, were more we're lower than the general population, and certainly lower than their non injured counterparts. So what you see in people where they've had these really quite catastrophic injuries is that where they've come through them come out the other side, their outlook on life generally looks a whole lot more positive. The reasons why, I don't know, I certainly feel like I'm quite a positive person. And my personal perspective on it, is that certainly in the job roles that I was in, and the roles in which a lot of people were in, in Afghanistan, it was an incredibly dangerous situation is incredibly dangerous country, the war was, was quite small, was incredibly violent. And for an awful lot of soldiers that the fear was not coming back at all. And the fact that we managed to come back, you know, minus a couple of feet, was actually a real positive thing as opposed to a negative thing. You know, it's easy to look at me in the physical condition in which I find myself and think that our poor Dave, he's got no legs, but actually, the alternative was that I was going to come home in a body bag. So you know, I came home alive, and I've learned to thrive since my injury. So I really do look at that incident as as a positive event as opposed to a negative event. And I think that's really quite common across the rest of our combat injury cohort, you know, is is a positive thing as opposed to a negative thing. And then yeah, it's really in terms of the day to day outlook on how to maintain positivity, always try and make sure that I have something that's just for me. So you know, whether you're in employment or you work for yourself, or whatever. I think it's incredibly important to have something within your day to day basis, which is just for you, you for me, that used to be athletics and now it's just physical fitness or whether it's going out for a run in the morning or just go to the gym. I'm fortunate I put a rehabilitation gym in at my house very early on in my rehab. So I'll just go to the gym and disappear for an hour and that's something that's mine and no one could take away and you're the stress from work and daily life doesn't come into that. So I've got that period of time. Which is just for me and I think that's quite essential because there are an awful lot of stresses out there and then the rest of the time is understanding and recognising and the value that a support network can bring to you so all the way through this pandemic and we're we're coming up close to we're only three weeks short of a year meaning more or less isolation. Every single day there's been messages from my support network, your network of friends, which we have on one whatsapp group, which is just banter and images and chat and the minute is filled filled with six nations chat which everyone understands and they're nothing about rugby. Just on a day to day basis, you've just got those people that reality that connection to times before and better times that you can relate to and reflect with as times go forward. So I think those have been the two real lifelines for me obviously I've got my family around me and I'm happy but just that connection to sport network and the fact that I've got something within a day this that's just for me and generally it's remained quite unchanged.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, I can completely agree with that. I think talking is you know, talking is absolutely essential. And yeah, getting a bit of space for yourself. My daughter's had me out running every day. Yes, every single evening for the last well since the start since the first of January. And I have to admit that if it were not for her, I may have had some days off it's kept me going but you know what, but why time I get we get home it's your head is just cleared and you feel refreshed. And yeah, it's been brilliant actually in even when it's been freezing cold or raining or so. Yeah, I completely agree with that and keeping your network strong and, and talking to people and then on the other side of it, I think reaching out to people and you know, checking in on others as well, isn't it?Unknown:
Yeah, absolutely. So cool.Donna O'Toole:
Oh, that's brilliant. Thank you so much, though. Thanks for telling your stories. Absolutely inspirational. And, you know, clearly you're a role model and a very positive person and we look forward to seeing what your next endeavours will brings maybe some more medals in the future,Unknown:
we should say.Donna O'Toole:
Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it and found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you have any questions, please head over to crafted by Auguste comm where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me. On the website. You can also take our free awards test, which will identify your award strengths and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you've been able to take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams.