A SPECIAL forces soldier left paralysed after he was shot in the neck has told how he has realised the definition of bravery – since leaving the military.
It was November 13, 2009 Toby Gutteridge’s life changed forever.
The extreme sports enthusiast who served for the Poole-based elite Special Boats Service (SBS) was shot during a special operation in Afghanistan, severing his spinal cord and paralysing him from the neck down instantly.
But Toby defied the odds to survive and though he is ventilated and uses a wheelchair, he is determined to live life to the full – and make a difference.
The 32-year-old has completed a college course, is undertaking a degree in business studies and has now launched a business from his Poole home to support underprivileged youngsters and veterans of the armed forces.
Toby hopes his determination to set up extreme sports clothing brand Bravery, through which he will donate funds to charities close to his heart, will serve as proof to others that anything is possible.
He explained: “I never really thought of the word bravery and what it stood for when I was in the military.
“I found the military quite straightforward because I loved it so much and you are trained for your job even though it is dangerous.
“It was actually only after I had been injured that I have realised exactly what bravery is. To get up in the morning and face your worst fears and do something that doesn’t come easy, that’s bravery.”
The former marine who passed SBS selection aged 23 said: “I wanted to be the best of the best and I developed a determination to push my limits. Some people are made for the special forces but very few. It really does test you physically and mentally to make sure you are the right person. I was extremely passionate about what I did.”
Toby, who is originally from South Africa and was a keen surfer and motocross racer, became injured when he was shot in the shoulder while serving in Afghanistan.
He was given the opportunity to return home but he wanted to stay with the squadron – a decision which led to his career ending in the most abrupt way imaginable.
Weeks later he was shot in the neck. He was airlifted to Camp Bastion before being transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he remained in a coma for weeks and his loved ones were told to prepare for the worst.
Toby, who received a mention in despatches for his bravery, said: “It was bad luck to be shot but I was lucky to be alive.
“It was a total curve ball to realise my injuries. I guess I had to take a bit of a step back, re-evaluate and find that core belief inside me that the military instilled – to not give up, to carry on fighting to carry on being brave and to move forward no matter how hard or tough things get.
“It took a lot of time and there were really dark times but I’m still carrying on, I’m still pushing forward and I’m still leading a good normal life, I’m trying to make the most of my life and that’s where Bravery comes from. No matter how tough it gets, you can still turn it into something good.
“My life has changed but it doesn’t mean it’s the end you just need to take a different route.”
Toby is defiant his injuries will not hold him back.
“If I was afraid the ventilator might stop or I might fall out the chair, or think about what people might be thinking when they look at me, I wouldn’t get out of bed. We are on this earth to live big and not small. Life is for living.”
Toby travels abroad, enjoys going to events and refuses to let the fact he is paralysed get in the way of running his business.
“I can’t write anything, I can’t physically feel the products, I can’t even pick up the phone. Of course it can be really frustrating but I have to learn to be patient. It may take a lot longer to do things but with a bit of patience, durability and humour, things do get done.
“It is about overcoming the struggles in life.
“Everything from getting up to going to bed each day and everything in between is a struggle. Yet I do it because nothing will stand in the way of me living my life. This is the message I want to share, to be brave, that if I can overcome these challenges, anybody can. By finding our bravery in small things, we can learn to find the courage in the big moments.”
Toby explains through the new organisation he hopes to create a team of role models to inspire young people to help change lives.
“It is often fear that makes youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds join gangs, numb themselves by doing drugs or turn that fear towards others through violence and crime. I want to help the younger generation break that chain of self-destruction and give them a new path of courage, dignity and self-respect by channeling fear into pushing their own limits.”
For information about Toby’s venture go to bravery.org.uk