Friday, March 17, 2017
Harry's band of brothers...
Karl Hinett and Ivan Castro were among wounded military veterans hailed by Prince Harry for their efforts fighting back against not only debilitating physical but also mental suffering.
The pair were welcomed by the prince yesterday, ahead of running both the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon next month in aid of the Royal Foundation-backed Heads Together mental health campaign.
Prince Harry made a plea for military personnel with mental health problems to seek help - and at least begin by talking to anyone about their feelings and fears, as they attended an event run in partnership with military community mental health coalition Contact.
As Mr Castro told Metro: ‘It all starts with a conversation.’
Former major Castro, 49 and now living at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, has only just retired after 28 years in the US army, despite suffering life-threatening injuries and being blinded in both eyes by enemy mortar shells when relieving paratroopers on top a house in the Iraqi town of Yusifiyah in September 2006.
He has become best friends with 30-year-old Mr Hinett, from Dudley in the West Midlands, who was called ‘the human fireball’ after harrowing images emerged of him escaping on fire after a petrol-bomb direct hit on his Warrior tank in September 2005.
Karl, just 19 at the time, suffered 37 per cent burns to his hands, legs, arms and face and needed 50 operations over the next five years as he recuperated in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Both have not only recovered but thrown themselves into sporting endurance events - the London one next month will be Mr Hinett’s 150th, while Mr Castro has also trekked to the South Pole and only last week returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Ivan got to know Prince Harry when taking part in the 2013 Invictus Games, a sporting event organised for injured veterans.
He has since been invited by the Royal Foundation to support the Heads Together push spearheaded by Harry as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
He told Metro: ‘I couldn’t say no to that - it’s an honour to be part of this.
‘Mental health injuries don’t only affect those in the military - we all have anxiety or fear or depression or survivors’ guilt or worries.
‘Sometimes it feels you’ll drown under them - but just talking is the first step towards recovery, getting something off our chests, whether to family or friends or colleagues or maybe a complete stranger.’
Karl, who will be cheered on by his wife Kate and their five-month-old son Hunter, is also keen to see more people reaching out for help - and for service providers to be better-equipped to respond.
He said: ‘If it wasn’t for running, I wouldn’t be where I am now - it’s been like therapy, something that helps not only physically but mentally.
‘Especially in the early days after the injury, when suddenly going from a highly-responsible and dangerous role to being bed-bound with no independence at all.
‘I felt I needed something to look forward to, to focus on and feel I was taking back some responsibility for my body and my life.
‘Many people aren’t completely aware of where to turn to for help with mental health issues, especially taking those first crucial steps.
‘We need to make help more accessible and to take away the stigma there is.’
Ivan appreciates his sporting activities as his own personal outlet - ‘whether running or cycling or climbing or skiing or shooting or archery or tomahawk-throwing’.
‘Some of it might be extreme but it doesn’t mean we all have to take it to such lengths - but those are my outlets, I need to break a sweat.
‘Family, friends, faith - gratitude, positive attitude, working out. That’s how I find my balance.
But for all his arduous activities, and achievements, he insists his blindness brings home to him his dependence on others.
‘People see me running, cycling, swimming, but all these things I’ve been able to accomplish are because I have a great support network.
‘I can’t even go to the loo in a place I don’t know without asking for assistance.
‘I’m a very A-type personality guy - I used to be very independent. Things were done my way and I wanted them done now. I was very DIY.
‘So it’s hard when you have a limitation such as loss of vision, to ask for help - but I’m amazed at some of the things I’ve been able to do, being blind, which I strongly attribute to the people around me.
‘There are very few things in life attributable to the work of only one person.
‘We need to ask for help - we need to start a conversation.
‘It shouldn’t be taboo to talk to someone.’
That horrific ordeal almost 12 years ago may define Karl in public memory as ‘the human fireball’, but he refuses to flinch,
He said: ‘I’m okay with revisiting what happened - I try not to fight the memories or to block it out. That’s just my personal approach.
‘It was something that happened - nothing can be changed about it. I have more control by accepting that, which feels more helpful for me mentally than trying to lock it away but have little bits creep out from time to time.
‘It’s a very real part of my life still - I accept it and can feel proud of coming through it.’
Prince Harry said yesterday: ‘We all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health.
‘Our campaign Heads Together is encouraging people to be more open - without the fear of judgement, prejudice or stigma.
‘It starts with a conversation either with a friend, family member or a colleague.’
And both runners feel encouraged by not only that royal involvement but a sincere transatlantic connection.
Ivan said: ‘Harry’s such a great guy - he works hard and he’s passionately caring about wanting to make a difference.
‘It’s great that all three of them have teamed up to put this programme and campaign together.
‘It’s also a wonderful collaboration of the US and the UK - we’ve been partners for many years, we’re trained together, we’ve fought together, we’ve bled together and we’ve recovered together.’
To donate to their cause, see http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/KarlandIvan.