1. ITV Report

Injured Cumbrian soldier to row in Thames Pageant

A Cumbrian soldier who was almost paralysed by a gunman whilst serving in Afghanistan is to row in the historic Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames.

Lance Corporal Mark Harding from Wigton, 36, will be among those leading the Queen’s Royal Barge in what promises to be one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river and one of the most eye-catching events of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Mark, a soldier with the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was injured in 2010 during a patrol in northern Helmand. He was shot in the neck and his resulting spinal injuries left him with nerve damage and reliant on crutches or a wheelchair.

But Mark, who has also served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq, is determined to overcome his injuries and the constant pain he now suffers, in memory of those soldiers who did not return home. He said:

“I am very lucky to be here really. I do not want to waste my life and I just want to try and do as much as I can for those who have not made it back.”

– Lance Corporal Mark Harding

Mark works closely with the ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity, an organisation which helped him to develop his interest in kayaking by funding rowing equipment. He took up the sport just six months ago, he said:

“I was on a post traumatic stress course in Headley Court hospital when I heard about some trials for the Paralympics, so me and a friend went with a view to just coming away with experience of a sport that I might take up as a hobby.”

– Lance Corporal Mark Harding
Mark is a natural in a kayak Credit: British Army

He tried out at a number of sports that day but it was clear he was a natural in a kayak, he said:

“I achieved the fifth fastest time of the day on my first ever attempt. No matter what your disability, when you get into the water with someone who is able-bodied, the playing field is levelled.”

– Lance Corporal Mark Harding

Mark now trains for at least 45 minutes, twice a day, every day, and hopes to represent Team GB in 200m sprint kayaking at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. But for now, his thoughts are occupied with his role in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

On Sunday (June 3) He will row as part of a team representing BLESMA, the British Limbless Ex Service Men's Association. Mark, in a tandem kayak, will cover 14 miles of the river at an average of four knots an hour (4 mph) he explained:

“That’s flat out really and we’ll have to contend with the tides and the wash from all of the other boats involved. The world will be watching and so we have to stay focussed and black that attention out, but it will be a great day.”

– Lance Corporal Mark Harding

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