After a long career in the Army was cut short through injury, Richard’s love of travel led him to becoming an Africa specialist at Audley. Last month, he also took part in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. He shares his experiences and what led him from the Army to a career at Audley and competing for his country.
What made you join the forces?
Both my parents had long careers in the Army, so it was what I always wanted to do. I served for 17 years before being medically discharged. I loved the variety the job offered as well as the physical side. I also traveled to some amazing countries, some I would’ve never got to see otherwise. Highlights were skydiving in San Francisco and ski seasons in Norway. I also undertook operational tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as training foreign soldiers in Saudi Arabia and Oman, to name a few places.
What ended your Army career?
I was first wounded when I was blown off a roof in Afghanistan by a grenade. On a later tour, an enemy grenade glanced off my helmet and exploded in my face as I hit the floor. My helmet took most of the impact, but some fragments hit my face and shoulder and I lost my vision. My left eye soon recovered, but my right never did. The injury that ended my career happened when I was testing new parachutes in the US: a strap wrapped around my arm as I exited the plane. As a result, I dislocated my right shoulder and broke 13 bones in it and my arm, tearing several muscles including my bicep clean in half. I’ve been left with greatly reduced movement and strength. After five operations and two years of rehabilitation, I was discharged from the Army.
What made you join the Invictus Games UK rowing team?
While I was undergoing my rehab after my parachute accident, the Invictus Games 2016 was on TV. I’d already started swimming and rowing with just my left arm, but watching the games inspired me to take the sport more seriously. I entered the British Rowing Indoor Championships and came second in my category. I then trained hard for six months and made it into the UK rowing team for the Invictus Games.
You managed to get some personal bests, but was it harder than you expected?
I spent three months away traveling with Audley and visiting a charity project in Africa, which affected my training, but I was happy with my results. I know that with more training I can beat those times, though. The four people who beat me in my race row with both arms, but with trauma to one or both hands. This makes it very hard for me to beat them, but I believe I can next year if I make it into the team.
What was your best moment in the games?
The closing ceremony was very inspiring and the after-party was also amazing. Talking with all the other competitors, from countries like Afghanistan and Ukraine, who had such an array of wounds all the way up to a quadruple amputee, made it an extraordinary night, as well as sharing it with my teammates and our families.
Did you meet Prince Harry?
Yes, at the trials. After my first race in Toronto, he tried to talk to me but I was exhausted and stuffing protein bars into my mouth before my second race, so I didn’t make much sense to him. I’ve met a few members of the Royal Family before, including Prince Charles (who spoke to me about his love for cheese).
Why did you make the move into the travel industry?
After being medically discharged from the Army, I had nine months to look around and decide what career I wanted to move into. Travel has always been my biggest passion, so I decided to start looking into roles with travel companies.
Why did you choose to become an Africa specialist at Audley?
Audley really stood out to me, and when I had my interview and walk through the office my mind was made up. I’d been offered a few jobs in different travel companies, but once Audley offered me the position as a Tanzania specialist I accepted straightaway.
What do you love most about Audley?
The office is a great place to work in, and the managers are really here to help us make the most of our abilities. They all have so much experience and knowledge to share. It’s great being surrounded by people who love travel as much as I do. The research trips abroad are amazing, and you can get some great discounts on your own travel trips.
Tell us a little about your day-to-day role at Audley
As a Tanzania specialist, I spend most of my days talking to clients who’ve come to us for a tailor-made safari. I then build personal itineraries for them with the emphasis on creating incredible safari experiences. Our department holds lots of small socials, and there are also bigger summer and Christmas parties, giving you the chance to relax and mix with your colleagues.