On Christmas Eve in 2007, British Royal Marine Mark Ormrod was on his way back to a forward operating base deep in enemy territory in Afghanistan after a foot patrol with his platoon. It was a routine five-hour walk—the most basic thing we'd done to that point," he recalls. But the most basic thing a Marine does is still more dangerous than anything most of us will experience on any given day.
A year earlier, Ormrod had re-enlisted in the Royal Marines after a stint in the private sector as a bodyguard hadn't panned out as he'd planned. He had a daughter at home who was spending Christmas Eve without her dad, and he had every reason to let his mind drift and feel sorry for himself. But he didn't. He had joined the Royal Marines at 17, straight out of school. This was what he was great at, who he was, why he trained like a maniac to be in peak physical condition at all times.
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With every step he took on the uneven, sandy terrain toward the safety of the base that night, his senses remained heightened, tuned in for the smallest sign of any danger.
It happened right at the front entrance to the camp. Ormrod was no stranger to engaging the enemy, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he heard an explosion and found himself temporarily blinded and enveloped in a cloud of particulate matter. "Initially, I thought we'd been attacked, and that a mortar had exploded and created this dust cloud," he recalls. "In this blinded state, I prepared myself to get in a firefight."
But in actuality, a different battle was about to begin: the one where he would struggle to build his life again from the foundations.
The Explosion and the Aftermath
When the dust settled, Ormrod could see again and felt no pain, but that was about to change. "I looked around and saw I was in a large hole as a result of the explosion, and I was bleeding out." He had stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED, and most of both of his legs and his right arm had been blown off. Many would pass out at that realization, but Ormrod remembers the ensuing hour or so vividly.
"About 10 minutes later, a medic got there and gave me morphine and applied tourniquets," Ormrod recalls. "He hooked his hands under my armpits, and when he dragged me across the ground onto a stretcher is when I first felt excruciating pain, like someone had jabbed a screwdriver into my femur and wiggled it around. I looked down and saw a tendon or fiber coming out of my thigh, connected to my foot and boot on the ground. He put the boot on my stomach and somehow managed to get me out of the minefield into a vehicle waiting to evacuate me. The guy driving nailed it to get me to a helicopter as quick as he could."
While careening over the harsh terrain separating them from the helicopter landing site, the medic was thrown out of the back of the vehicle. Ormrod would have been as well, had the driver not turned around and grabbed his exposed femur bone, holding him dangling "half-in and half-out." They made it to the pad, but barely.
"The last thing I remember is the helicopter landing and the sandstorm from the rotor wash. Then I blacked out, which is when I thought I died," says Ormrod. Later, he found out that he actually had. The only thing that saved him was a novel technique that had only been approved days earlier. "My veins had been collapsed from the blood loss, so they couldn't give me intravenous fluid. They drilled straight into the bone to give me fluids, gave me a line, and within three minutes I was responsive again and in a semi-stable condition."
Still in danger of dying, the doctors at the field hospital assessed the damage to Ormrod's body and decided that the only way they could save his life was to amputate both of his legs above the knee and his right arm at the elbow. Then he was taken via medevac back to the UK, where he arrived in the early hours of Christmas day.
He was home, although he didn't realize it yet. His first three days were spent in the hospital in a coma, followed by several more in a medication-induced haze. In his confusion, he hadn't yet realized that he had lost three limbs.
When his situation became clear, he says, he considered suicide. But only for a moment.
Starting From Scratch
Once he was out of immediate harm's way, Ormrod's immediate future began to take shape. It would be a struggle, and this stubborn Marine would have to get use to saying "no" to people telling him "no."
"Three and a half weeks into it, I got told by the doctor who was the leading amputation professional in the UK that I'd never walk again. I know they say that shit only happens in movies, but it actually happened." Ormrod wouldn't accept that answer, and as quickly as possible got a computer in his room to start researching prosthetics—and just as crucially, connecting with the amputee community.
Of course Ormrod's recovery process was difficult, but many others had been where he was. They were out there, ready to help him if he was ready to hear it. A fellow wounded warrior gave Ormrod a boost when he provided an insider's perspective on recovery and on the prosthetics he would need after—not if—he learned how to walk again. But first things first.
"I couldn't jump straight into prosthetics like I wanted to and just put in the hard work physically. I had to sit there and be patient and wait until I'd healed up, which seemed like it took an eternity," he recalls. "Then, the first time I walked four or five meters with a parallel bar, it felt like I'd walked a marathon.
But he kept going, and soon he had defied the odds and developed a functional life—and even a modified workout routine—with his new limbs.
Training With New Purpose
A breakthrough moment in Ormrod's recovery came when he connected with Cameron Clapp, a triple amputee who had lost his limbs when a train hit him in 2002, when he was just 15. Clapp came back from his injuries to be an athlete and motivational speaker. Ormrod connected with Clapp and traveled to the United States for a three-week boot camp with Clapp and the team who built his prosthetics.
"Thanks to Cameron and his team, my life was changed and I became a full-time prosthetics user and independent," Ormrod recalls. "I was back in the gym. I did charity events. I ran across America with some friends in 2010, and we did a hand cycle around the coast that was 3000 miles. By 2013, I decided I was ready to really get back into working out in the gym like I did all the time before I was injured. Initially, I'd work hard in the gym, but it was all functionality. It wasn't what I was used to and what I liked doing."
Of course, with this decision came a whole new set of challenges. "The legs aren't a problem," he explains in his characteristic matter-of-fact tone. "You can get by with the legs missing in the gym and do leg exercises. But with one arm, it's hard to figure out how to chain your chest, shoulders and back using a prosthetic."
The modifications Ormrod had to make to traditional machine-based movements and his three prosthetic limbs made him self-conscious at first when he went to the gym. A friend gave him a key so he could go to the facility and work out—or "figure things out," he says—on his own at 5:30 in the morning before the gym opened.
"I was conscious of how long it took me to get in and out of machines, and I didn't want to hinder other people's workouts during peak times," he recalls. "It was a game, really, for 8-12 months. The exercises I did wouldn't necessarily be what people would call 'correct,' because the correct way wasn't feasible or didn't work for me. As long as I was hitting the target muscles, I was happy."
"I felt like when people came into the gym and watched me that they looked at me like I was a 'gym fails' video. I had to adjust things so that I could hit the right muscle, which required doing things differently. I worried about it for a while. Then I said 'fuck it,' and just did it."
The New Mark Ormrod
Recently, Ormrod opened his own gym and has begun working as a coach. He serves as a spokesperson for the Royal Marines Association charity. He is completing an executive coaching program and is involved in real estate.
That Ormrod is alive at all is a miracle. That he's achieved all he has is anything but. It's an ongoing project, where he learns new lessons the hard way each and every day. Here are four of the most important lessons he wants to impart.
Take opinions for what they are
Remember, Ormrod was told by one of the top experts in the field that he would never walk again. That may sound like a prediction, but today, he sees it for what it truly is: an opinion.
"The biggest thing to take from my story is this: Fuck people's opinions," he says. "Arnie says it best: Ignore the naysayers. People would tell me you can't do this, you can't do that. I think people told me these things to protect me and so I wouldn't be disappointed, but if there's something you want to do, believe you can do, or aspire to do, don't be disheartened by people who tell you that you can't do it. If someone has done it before you, there's no reason you can't do it."
Ask for help
"Don't ever, ever be afraid to ask for help," Ormrod says. "If you need, it don't be an ass and not ask. If people are willing to help you, then ask for it, and take it."
It's all too easy to slip into the mindset that a goal needs to be achieved alone in order to matter. Don't believe it. The goal is what matters. Utilize the wisdom from those who have been where you are to help you get there.
Surround yourself with achievement
"The biggest key to achieving your goals is to surround yourself with people who empower you and people that play the game at a higher level than you do. It truly does force you to be a better person." Ormrod says. "It's a cliché, but I believe it: If you hang around with a bunch of people who are broke and have no money, it won't be long before you're broke and have no money. If you hang around with successful people with money, it won't be long before you're successful and have money too."
"For me, Cameron was the trailblazer. He had changed thousands of lives. When I saw him, I knew I could do it."
Hold yourself to an elite standard
Ormrod doesn't just want to function. He wants to thrive and do what he enjoys at a high level. But with the demands that places on his body, he has no choice but to treat things we often take for granted, like food and water, as serious business. "Nutrition and health has become the basis of everything I do," he says.
"I have to live like a professional athlete if I want to get the most out of every day. Once I began training again, I changed the way I ate. I started eating 5-6 meals a day. Wherever I go, I always have a backpack full of snacks, nuts and seeds, and fruit. When I eat out, I pick healthy options and I always have supplements with me, too. I have my omega 3-6-9, my Alpha Male, L-carnitine, a small bag of protein, and green tea bags. These things are all non-negotiable."
He also is vigilant about staying hydrated. "It's critical for me because it takes so much energy simply to walk around. Just for me to walk and do the things I normally do, it would be like if you got up in the morning and went for an intense jog," he says. "Of course, my body is used to it, but it still requires extra energy and fluids. Nutrition isn't important just for training. It's important because it allows me to get around day to day."
One of Many
Ormond's story is amazing, but it's not as unique as you might think. Every day, veterans are working back from situations and incidents as bleak as anything our imaginations can cook up. It's slow work, but it's important, and this story ends with our hero finding satisfaction in his new life, and in the project of helping others do the same.
His story may not be yours, but like many veterans, he willingly opens his life up for you to take inspiration from it. Honor his choice by learning from his example.