The Taliban may have broken Corie Mapp’s body when they blew up his military vehicle in Afghanistan in 2010, but they didn’t break his spirit. Despite losing both his legs in the explosion, Lance Corporal Mapp vowed to regain control of his life and, in simple terms, become a man of action again.
He will fulfil that pact he made with himself when he competes in the Prince Harry- organised Invictus Games, as one of 400 injured servicemen and women from 14 countries around the world who are taking part. “It has given us something to be proud of, something to keep us going,” he says of the Games.
Rewind four years to the moment Mapp, 36, nearly lost his life. “We ran over an IED. The explosive device demolished my vehicle, and I lost both my legs,” he says bluntly, listing the injuries he sustained: “Broken jaw, severed lip, punctured lung…”
The father of three was flown from Helmand to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where he was placed in an induced coma while doctors worked on his devastated body. When he awoke, both legs had been amputated below the knee.
“I don’t remember much of that time,” he says now. A week after waking up from the coma he was sent to Headley Court in Surrey, the medical rehabilita- tion centre. And, amazingly, little more than a week after that he had started using his prosthetic legs.
“I got a lot of support from charities like Help for Heroes, but it was still a difficult time,” he admits. But in 2013 he competed for the GB sitting volleyball team in the European championships, and now he’s part of the biggest British sports team ever assembled from wounded, sick or injured Armed Forces personnel.
Sports include everything from archery and cycling to volleyball and athletics – Mapp calls it a “mini Olympics” for the military – and the event aims to show that the time, effort and expense it takes to rehabilitate injured soldiers is not in vain. “It’s about us being back on our feet again, having been through some difficult times,” says Mapp. “There are many people to thank for that, not least the British public, who pay taxes to see us righted again.”
Mapp is still an imposing figure, barrel-chested with muscular arms. Quite useful when it comes to his sport of sitting volleyball: “It’s about upper-body strength, moving yourself around the court as fast as possible,” he explains.
The Invictus Games might be for a good cause, but that doesn’t mean competition is always good-natured: “As military guys we’re all naturally competitive. Nobody goes in to a session half-hearted. We’re all trying to get the best out of each other, even though sometimes it looks like we’re just yelling at each other.”
Whether injured on frontline duty like Mapp or diagnosed with illness back home, each athlete competing in the Games has been through their own private struggle. The one unifying element, however, is their desire for competition, for action.
“If we sit at home, pile loads of weight on and feel sorry for ourselves, things go downhill. Sport helps me stay fit and competitive, and keeps me mentally sharp. Sport has been incredibly important for me, and for everyone competing in these Games. I desperately needed something to focus on during rehab. Sport fills a gap in my life that the Army had left.”
The Games run from 10—14 September. See highlights on Thursday and Friday on BBC2