Dave joined the British Army in 2008, starting his military career with a year of intense infantry and leadership training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Upon commissioning, Dave joined the Corps of Royal Engineers, taking his first command in July 2009. Dave re-roled and took over his second command 7 months later and deployed to Afghanistan as a Royal Engineer Search Advisor in 2010, responsible for the co-ordination, planning and conduction of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Search Operations.

Dave Henson in Afghanistan

Dave in Afghanistan 2010

In February 2011, this high – risk role cost Dave both of his legs when he stood on an IED.

“I remember walking across the compound to gain visual contact with our infantry protection before walking back. The next thing I remember I was on the floor and managed to get myself seated. I looked down and saw my legs were in pieces – skin and muscle hanging off and bones poking out. I started screaming, I don’t think it was pain at that point, the adrenaline kept the pain off for a few minutes and it was pure shock. My Team Commander came into my field of view and helped me get a check on my emotions. I kept saying to him what he needed to do – get the helicopter, make comms with HQ, get the photos. In reality, he was all over it and I was only saying it to keep myself distracted. The boys saved my life and stopped the bleeding and we lay there smoking cigarettes while we waited for the helicopter. It felt like a lifetime but in reality I was on the operating table in the field hospital 37 minutes after I was injured.”

His soldiers provided immediate first aid, undoubtedly saving Dave’s life on the ground. However, Dave now had to adjust to life’s latest challenge.

Dave spent five weeks in the care of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, a very highly skilled military medical unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. Here Dave was put back together piece by piece, as best modern medicine allows, before being sent to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court. Here, Dave was up and walking at half height just 8 weeks after losing his legs, and was back to full height at 14.

Dave in hospital

Dave at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham shortly after leaving Intensive Care

It was during his rehabilitation that Dave found new passion for sport, first competing in a series of open water swims with his family to raise funds for military charities, before taking up Sitting Volleyball with BattleBack, a joint MOD, Help for Heroes and Royal British Legion venture that provides injured servicemen and women access to sporting opportunities.

“When we were on the court nothing else mattered. No-one cared how many legs you did or didn’t have, it was all about getting across the court as quickly as possible, digging out blind to get that ball that would otherwise cost your team just one point. That’s what sport in recovery is all about. Forgetting about the pain and the drama for ten minutes, an hour. Get your head in the game and don’t let your team down.”

Dave Sitting Volleyball

Dave serving in Sitting Volleyball at the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

Using sport as an catalyst for his recovery, Dave quickly met milestone after milestone. He stood side by side with his brother, Tom, at his wedding in September 2011. He was promoted to Captain in November the same year, but it was when he was given his running blades that Dave found his true passion.

“On 13 December 2011, exactly 10 months after I was blown up, I got my running legs. As a military amputee you have to get used to life at a much slower pace than it used to be. Everything takes so much longer, from going to the bathroom to getting out of the car. The feeling of being able to move somewhere with some semblance of speed on that first day felt incredible and there’s been no turning back! It’s taken a long time to get the fit right, to get the technique right, but I am improving all the time. I set myself a challenge that first day, promising myself that I would leave the Army being able to pass the fitness requirements. In the Army you have to do a 2.4km run in under 10 minutes 30 as part of your biannual fitness assessments. I left the Army in March 2014 with a time of 10:28.”

Dave Henson Olympic Stadium Warm Up

Warming up the track at the London Olympic Stadium a few months after first getting blades (Photo: Helen Buckley)

In the meantime, Dave’s recovery continued with pace. In 2012 he learned to ski, returned to work assisting other injured servicemen and women and was part of an exhibition team that competed in the Warrior Games, an inter-services sports competition for the US Military branches. Dave returned to the Warrior Games as the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team in May 2013, winning medals in the swimming pool, on the volleyball court and on the track. This first experience of track racing inspired him to take the sport further, pairing up with his sprint coach, Roger Keller, in October 2013.

Outside of sport, Dave married his partner, Hayley, in 2013 before taking on a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, graduating with Merit in 2014. Having previously graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a First Class Degree in Mechanical Engineering, Dave wanted to return to studying to learn more about the body and, in particular, how it can interact with machines. His ultimate aim was to work towards improving prosthetic limb design.

“I am constantly being reminded what I used to be able to do with my legs and where my limitations are now, and I’m trying to narrow that gap.”

During his Masters degree, Dave designed a joint recreation implant for use with through-knee amputees that can help amputees regain some of the function lost with the loss of the knee joint. The project is currently being developed further at Imperial College London and will form part of a larger, long term limb regeneration project being undertaken at the institution. Click the link below to see BBC coverage of the limb regeneration project.

BBC Coverage Limb Regeneration

BBC Coverage Limb Regeneration

At the same time, Dave continued with his athletics training and became involved behind the scenes of the Invictus Games – an international sports tournament championed by Prince Harry for injured servicemen and women from around the world. Dave initially fulfilled a role as part of a ‘sounding board’, providing advice from the point-of-view of an injured soldier. Following the public launch of the Invictus Games in March 2014, Dave was subsequently asked to be the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team.

“It was a huge honour for me to be selected to be the Team Captain. There were some incredible boys and girls on the team and being chosen to represent them was one of my life’s greatest achievements. Being able to see these people go through their sporting journey from the announcement, through the trials and selection process and then to see their faces on the night of the opening ceremony was incredibly emotional. Seeing the real, tangible difference that sport had made to them, how much it meant for them to be able to represent their country again was overwhelmingly powerful.”

Invictus Games Sitting Volleyball Gold Medal

Invictus Games Sitting Volleyball Gold Medallists (Photo: Tony Harris)

Alongside a hugely successful British Team, Dave personally took home gold medals in Sitting Volleyball and in the 200m sprint on the track. Despite being new to the sport, Dave’s 2014 PB saw him comfortably into the world top ten.

Choosing to pursue both Bioengineering and athletics further, Dave started his PhD in Amputee Biomechanics in April 2015, shortly after the births of his daughter, Emily, whilst maintaining a full time athletics training programme.  This programme saw him progress over the 2015 season, competing at the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium in London and subsequently gaining his first GB vest at the 2015 World Championships, finishing 7th in the T42 200m.  The 2016 season encompassed the second Invictus Games, held in Orlando, Florida; the European Championships in Grosetton, Italy; and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.  Dave’s abilities as an athlete started to outweigh his inexperience – he retained the Gold at the Invictus Games, won Silver at the European Championships and Bronze at the Paralympic Games, all over the 200m distance.

The 2017 season saw the IPC World Para Athletics Championships, held in the Olympic Park in London where Dave competed in the 100 and 200m sprints, coming out of the 200m with another podium finish.  2017 also saw the birth of Dave’s second child, Isabelle and the continuation of his PhD.

The 2018 season saw a deliberate scaling back in athletics in order to concentrate on baby number 2 and some key milestones in the PhD research.  Additionally, new rule changes for bilateral amputees in conjunction with a change in classification from T42 to T61 saw some major changes to Dave’s prosthetic setup, all of which were expected.

The 2019 season will see the IPC World Para Athletics championships in Dubai in November and the completion of Dave’s studies before the final push ahead of the 2020 Paralympics.