Rob Bugden takes on five half marathons

RAF instructor who fell 900ft takes on five half marathons in his wheelchair

‘You either wave the white flag or you crack on and get on with it’

A PARALYSED RAF instructor who fell 900ft in a life-changing accident plans to take on five half marathons to raise money for five charities close to his heart.

Corporal Rob Bugden, 37, was on exercise in California as a parachute jumping instructor when he suffered an accident that resulted in a life changing injury in January 2016.

“It was the last jump of the exercise, as we were coming into land at about 1,000ft,” said Rob.  “Myself and one of the other boys collided. His knee meets my head, which broke my neck and knocked me unconscious. Our canopies collapsed, and we fell around 800ft to 900ft at 50mph.

“The last thing I remember is pulling my parachute cord and looking up at the canopy,” he added.

“I’m still here, and that’s the main thing that matters.”

The accident broke Rob’s neck, along with multiple vertebrae, leaving him tetraplegic and unable to walk. After waking up in hospital in Phoenix, it took him some time to fully understand and come to terms with what had happened.

“My brain was very frazzled in the first three years. I just had to take everything one step at a time, but it was difficult. It took me about 11 months to be able to feed myself, and another three to four months to brush my teeth,” he said.

Rob, who now lives in Cowbridge, hopes to complete the Great Welsh Half Marathon (April 2), The Great West Run (May 21), Swansea Half Marathon (June 11), Wales Half Marathon (July 2) and finish with the Cardiff Half Marathon (October 1), which he has completed before in 2011.

He has been working closely with the Independent Physiotherapy Service in Cardiff, attending three times a week for the last three years. He also aims to go around the estate where he lives, for two hours a day, with his dog Denzel to keep him company.

Rob with his support dog, Denzel

“I have to train smart as opposed to train hard because it’s only my shoulders that work, so I don’t want to tire them out. I’m lucky I also have a gym at home, so I focus on the skiing machine, and anything that builds strength in my arms,” he said.

“It’s only my shoulders and my biceps that work properly, so I’ll try not to knacker my shoulders too much!”

Originally from Cornwall, Rob moved to Cardiff as an eighteen year old to attend Cardiff Metropolitan University, during which time he represented England and Great Britain in cross-country running.  

He believes his military and athletic background helped him through his rehabilitation and motivated him to take on this challenge.  

“You’ve only really got one or two choices; you either wave the white flag or you crack on and get on with it. That was the only option for me,” said Rob.

“I’ve always been fairly goal-driven – if someone says I can’t do something, then I will. It was the same with my rehab – they were telling me I wouldn’t feed myself again and I kept saying ‘Ok, Watch me.’

“It gives me a goal. It’s also helping with the physical aspect of things but also the mental side of things. I’m learning that I might have these limitations, but I can still go out and do all these challenges.”

“I will never ever say I accept my injury, because the minute you accept something, that’s the second you stop striving and wanting to improve,” added Rob.

Rob respresented Great Britian at multiple cross country events

Rob initially joined the RAF in 2008 as a physical training instructor, and spent years on recruits and training bases, including four months in the Falklands, but after five years, he decided to specialise in parachute jumping as a way to battle his fear of heights.

“I didn’t want to specialise in adventurous training where you have to take people up mountains because I didn’t like heights – so I thought I’d become a parachute jumping instructor and jump out of planes instead!

“It is not the most sensible thing to do when you don’t like heights – but fears are there to be faced!” Rob added.

He will be completing the half marathons in a custom built sports wheelchair, worth £7,000, that was donated to him by the OppO Foundation, one of the charities he aims to raise money for.

All five of the charities chosen have played a “massive” part in Bugden’s rehabilitation since his injury seven years ago.

Rob is an ambassador for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and is one of the charities he chose to support. They provide financial, practical, and emotional support to serving and former members of the RAF and have recently adapted Rob’s house so he can live as independently as possible.

The next charity chosen is the DMRC Defence and Medical Rehabilitation Centre fund. Based out the old Headley Court, they help servicemen and women who are going through rehab for life-changing injuries by organising activities to get people out of hospital. These activities can vary from concerts and dinners to rugby and football games. These activities are designed to challenge the veterans to adapt to their wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.

Another charity that boosted Rob’s morale in a big way is the Cakes for Casualties. Kath Ryan, who is self-funded, is a unique charity that provides friendship and cakes for injured service personnel in hospital. She takes a selection of cakes to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has served over 9,000 personnel since its inception in 2009.

His final charity is Tough Enough To Care – a charity that encourages men to talk about their problems and break the mental health stigma.

“I have been incredibly well looked after, from the moment I woke up in hospital in Phoenix to where I am now going forward. It’s extremely humbling.”

“That’s why my motto is to support those who support others, I just want to give back to those who helped.”

“I’m grateful to the friends I’ve roped in to run around with me. We’ll be out for around three and a half hours , we’ll have a laugh and at the end we’ll have a beer and know that, hopefully, we’ve achieved something that’s going to make a difference to a lot of people.”

You can follow Rob’s journey on his social media

Rob has already raised £2,355 out of the total £5,000. To find out more on how to donate click here.