Ex-soldier sets off for record row

ON HIS WAY Nick Townsend setting off on his non-stop row to St Hellier, Jersey
ON HIS WAY Nick Townsend setting off on his non-stop row to St Hellier, Jersey

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A former army sergeant from Emsworth who almost bled to death in a Taliban attack has set off on a 36-hour non-stop rowing challenge across the English Channel.

Nick Townsend, formerly of the Royal Anglian regiment, lost two pints of blood and sustained 11 shrapnel wounds while serving in Afghanistan in 2007.

He took just 20 sick days after the incident - becoming the first badly-wounded British soldier to return to active duty so soon after being airlifted back to the UK for treatment.

Mr Townsend, 30, who served with Viking Battalion, and his brother Jason Rice, 44, set off in a rowing boat from Weymouth in Dorset at 6am on Thursday.

The pair aim to row 120 miles to St Helier in Jersey, non-stop, for an estimated 36 hours in a world record attempt.

Their challenge will raise money for troops who have suffered life-changing injuries and illnesses while serving for Britain.

Father-of-one Mr Townsend, who left the Army in 2012 after 12 years of service, now works at Brenchley’s Civil Engineering.

He said: ‘There’s currently no world record set for this row, but we are going to complete it in the fastest possible time that we can and set the time to beat.

‘Together, my brother and I make a good team. Jason works in the sailing industry, so he understands the nature of the tides, navigation while at sea and the busy shipping lanes, and I have the expertise on endurance, nutrition and how to deal with sleep deprivation.’

The challenge is being sponsored by Conquest Fine Fitted Furniture from Hampshire, as the managing director is a schoolfriend of Mr Rice, who lives in Chichester.

Mr Rice, an installation engineer for super yacht blinds, said: ‘We have to be very aware and meticulous about our navigation, as the tides around Alderney can be very tricky - particularly for a small rowing boat.’

The brothers will be accompanied on the challenge by their brother, uncle and cousin, who will be sailing alongside for support.

They decided to attempt the challenge in response to the support Mr Townsend and his colleagues received after being wounded in Afghanistan.

Mr Townsend, then a corporal, suffered blast wounds to his stomach, groin, and knee when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a wall next to him in 2007.

He suffered near-fatal internal bleeding from a cut artery and was airlifted to England to spend a week at the British Forces Treatment Centre.

‘After the incident my first response was to get straight back out there. I didn’t want to be back in England while someone else was taking over my responsibilities for the men while their lives were at risk,’ he said.

‘Last autumn my training was seriously affected by a piece of shrapnel that was lodged in my hamstring, but that has naturally moved position and is no longer affecting my movement.’

His friends and comrades lost limbs, and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries in similar incidents.

A close friend was hit by a piece of shrapnel that lodged in one of the frontal lobes of the brain, permanently changing his mental state.

Mr Townsend added: ‘The support provided for Help for Heroes is absolutely vital.

‘A prosthetic limb, fully personalised and moulded to the individual’s shape, changes a victim’s life and gives them the ability to use their limbs without severe pain.

‘However, just one prosthetic limb can cost up to £16,000 and this is where the Help for Heroes charity can provide support.’

To support the English Channel Challenge visit bmycharity.com/JasonRice. Or text NHFH 70 and the amount to 70070.

The challenge, expected to conclude on Sunday, will not be setting an official world record due to officiating costs.