Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A MODERN DAY HERO _ SCOTT BLANEY -"Injury is not the end"

In a departure from my stories of our Blaney ancestors, I would like to tell the story of a modern day Blaney hero.

Scott Blaney (b. Aug 1986 near Birmingham, England) is my second cousin once removed. He is the great great grandson of the previously written about Harry Blaney (see blog postings March 2013) who was my great grandfather. His great grandfather was Elizabeth Blaney’s brother Edward (Ted); his grandfather is Edward’s son John.

I see some of Harry’s traits in Scott’s personality such as the Blaney sense of humour, their work ethic and tenacity.

I am also reminded of my adventurous great uncle Albert Blaney of North Vancouver who was still panning for gold in British Columbia while in his 80s, a hobby he began on the beach at Weston Super Mare, England. He was an optimist, lumberjack, soldier, musician, violin maker, story teller and lifelong adventurer. He was dubbed a “renaissance man” by his niece Patricia’s husband. Note his walking sticks in the photo.

Scott is a courageous Grenadier Guardsman in the British Army who suffered life changing injuries in May 2007 only a month into serving his country in Afghanistan.

The news of his injuries was devastating to his family but they are immensely proud of him. Scott has a younger brother, Joe and sadly they had lost their mother to a brain tumour a few years earlier, when she was just forty-one. Scott also has his father Pete, his step-mother Marie and his grandparents John & Sheila Blaney.

From the time he attended Etone Community School, Scott knew he wanted a military life. There is a history of service in his blood given his grandfather John Blaney’s military service in the Royal Navy (1949-1962), his great uncle William (Bill) Blaney, Elizabeth’s brother, who was a career naval serviceman (1913-1946), his great uncle Alfie Blaney, Bess’s youngest brother, a coxswain who died at Dieppe and all the Blaney uncles and cousins who served in time of war for England and Canada.

It would be a job for life, an opportunity for adventure and seeing the world. Scott joined the Grenadier Guards when he was eighteen years of age and was sent to Afghanistan in April 2007 with the 1st. Battalion.

Less than a month later, he was on foot patrol in Helmand Province when the explosion of a mine killed one of his colleagues and injured four others. Scott was lucky to be alive; he lost his lower right leg as well as suffering damage to his right elbow and eye from shrapnel. The soldier who carried Scott on his back for more than a mile to a waiting helicopter was Warrant Officer Class 1 (Regimental Sergeant Major) Darren Chant who was subsequently killed in Afghanistan on November 3rd 2009. This selfless action got Scott the quick attention he needed and potentially saved his life. Scott has said “We were lying on a mound of earth when the explosion happened. I was thrown on my back and saw my right leg twisted up near my head and I knew it had been blown off. My elbow had been nearly split in two, I had shrapnel in my eye and I saw my mate dead”.

After being treated at a field hospital, Scott was returned to England staying at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for about six weeks which were followed by some time at Hedley Court Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey. He was very determined and set timed goals to walk again, run a marathon, cycle, all of which he did and more. "Cycling was hard to start off with, but you eventually get there. I go out once a day on the bike”.

Scott still recommends a life in uniform “I love the Army and the lads, it is a brilliant life” he said.

He went through a long recovery ordeal, his wounds healed, he acquired a prosthetic leg, and suffered flashbacks but he had great support from his family and his regiment and he loves the Army so he “got on with things”. Determined to live life to the full, he took up marathon running, golfing, competitive cycling and swimming. He also did a little rowing.

Cpl. Blaney remained with his regiment and in 2009 made military history as the first amputee to do sentry duty at the Tower of London taking his turn less than two years after his injury. At that time he was quoted as saying “You cannot just lie back and feel sorry for yourself. I have always refused to become depressed by what happened. It’s a squaddie (army private) mentality – you can’t feel sorry for yourself, you have to get on with things”.

Scott has been an inspiration to others who have suffered terrible injuries fighting for their country. While he amazed everyone the way he battled back, he was inspired by the courage of his mates in Afghanistan.

In addition to his family and his army life, his principal interest is fund- raising and increasing the awareness of the challenges of injured servicemen and women and their families. He is now serving at Kneller Hall Barracks, in Twickenham, Greater London, returning home to Nuneaton on the weekends.

In 2009 his father Peter Blaney said “What he has done is remarkable and has amazed me. He just gets on with his life and is very positive. He is so well adjusted to what has happened and I think the army sees him as an inspiration to other wounded soldiers”.

On July 20 that year, Scott was a member of an army relay team who swam the English Channel from Shakespeare Dover to Cape Griz in France while participating in the Annual Inter-Services Open Water Endurance Race. “Yeah, I`ve got a prosthetic leg and yeah I`m classed as disabled, but I don`t look at it that way. I see this as just another thing to get on with”. Scott undertook some onerous training at Camp Bay in Gibraltar. He had not done much swimming and on his first day of training he said he was “shaking with panic but by my second day, I did really well swimming 300 meters then non-stop for half an hour in the afternoon”. The water was freezing cold, with a current and swell.

They also had to practice swimming at night because it is so mentally challenging and completely different to swimming in daylight. As part of a relay team they could find themselves swimming day or night. It was an arduous race, twenty-one miles across the channel and they were crossing two busy shipping lanes. Of course it was also very competitive as the team of service personnel from the rehabilitation programme `Battle Back” was up against tough competition from the Royal Navy, the Army, the RAF and the Wales University Officer Training Corps. `Battle Back` is a military programme which encourages members of the Armed Forces who have been injured either on or off duty, to participate in adventurous training activities and sports as part of their rehabilitation.

Scott became engaged to his girlfriend, Amy Lee on May 4, 2013. They had their engagement party on June 15th, 2013 with family and friends and are planning to marry in 2014. Amy is training as a lawyer.

On July 29th, 2013 Scott played in the Disabled Open, a charitable golf event for golfers with disabilities.

by permission of Nuneaton News
In August 2013 he supported and helped promote a charity event at the Anchor Inn in Hartshill. It was a three day beer festival with live music and children’s entertainments that raised funds for Help For Heroes, a cause that was close to the hearts of the pub managers, Tony & Christine Reast and Scott.

In December 2013, Scott took on his biggest challenge, an across the Atlantic rowing race. I heard about this event about a month into the race from my British Columbia cousin Patricia Blaney Koretchuk. Since I was interested in my British Blaney relatives including Scott and being in need of a little inspiration myself at the time, I joined Twitter to follow his journey. I followed the race on the website where blogs, updates and photos were posted by the crew members. There was also a link to a map tracking the progress of all the boats in the race and a link to a site where donations could be made.

It was on December 4, after a couple of days of inclement weather, that Scott Blaney and three teammates set off on a grueling 3000 mile unsupported rowing adventure. It was the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, a challenge dubbed “the toughest rowing race in the world”. The race began with sixteen boats competing in several classes all rowing to raise money for various charities. Scott and his mates were rowing to raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity that works to improve the lives of injured service personnel and their families. Their slogan is “Beyond Injury-Achieving the Extraordinary”

The Endeavour Fund funded this attempt to row the Atlantic. It is an arm of The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Prince Harry says the fund "aims to reignite that fighting spirit and inspire those who have served their country to go on and achieve great things". It helps support returning service personnel and in achieving their ambitions in the world of sporting and adventurous challenge. The Row2Recovery boat was re-named Endeavour in recognition of their partnership with the Fund. The team arrived in the small Canary Island of La Gomera, Novermber 27 tor their pre-race training. Imagine how excited they were to be so close to the beginning of their adventure. Scott's father and step-mother arrived on the 29th to see them off.

Before the race began Prince Harry offered his support for the crew with a satellite call from his expedition in Antarctica. Prince Harry was making a gruelling charity trek to the South Pole racing with a group of injured British servicemen and women organized by the Walking With The Wounded charity.

The crew of the Endeavour consisted of four men with five legs between them.

By permission of Row2Recovery

The other three crew members in the boat with Scott were:

Capt. James Kayll who serves with the Light Dragoons and is a veteran of long-distance rowing was the skipper and said “Ocean rowing is an extraordinary activity for any able-bodied person and for Cayle and Scott; the challenge will be ten times more difficult. I am full of admiration and in complete awe of their courage and determination.”

LCPL Cayle Royce was with the Light Dragoons too. He was wounded in Afghanistan in May 2012. He was serving as a sharpshooter when he stepped on an explosive device. This resulted in above-the-knee amputation of both of his legs, facial scarring, loss of some of his fingers and damage to his neck. He was a keen outdoors-man and adventurer before his injuries and was anxious to get back to that life.

Also aboard was Capt. Mark Jenkins who serves with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Physiotherapy Officer and is proud to be raising funds for injured servicemen and woman. “I hope we can show what extraordinary things can be achieved despite injury and disadvantage."

The training was rigorous, rowing morning and afternoon as well as building strength with weights. “It will be pure endurance” Scott said while talking about the physical challenge and having the use of only one leg. He took part in the challenge for himself and “to show that anything is possible even if you have faced life changing injuries”.

Before leaving Scott was quoted as saying “It’s something close to my heart and everyone has been so supportive. My family have been brilliant and they know I’m doing a good thing. I’d like to thank them and everyone else who has supported me so far and I just hope that everyone can continue to support me by logging onto the website and donating”.

The Row2Recovery team embarked in a 29ft boat with a small hatch at each end, competing in the “fours” category (four in a boat). Each small hatch became the crib for two crew members. Scott’s video (see utube – First Class Service) shows where they slept, stored the satellite phone, video camera, tool kit, personal cleaning supplies and the sheep skin he used to soften the hard seat when rowing.

The 3000 mile course was from La Gomera to English Harbour, Antigua. The race was expected to take about six weeks to complete, rowing two hour shifts; twenty four hours a day.

It would be relentless, unforgiving, terrifying, an extreme test of body and mind and it would be amazing! Sixteen teams began but not all teams would make it to the finish line. Due to various difficulties at least five teams had to withdraw from the race.

Due to length I have divided this story into two parts. Part II will detail their time during the race and the aftermath. What a ride it would be!

...........................................To be continued in the next post..............

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