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Former soldier blown up in Afghanistan to take on 3,081-mile cycle challenge

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 June 2017 | UPDATED: 15:58 06 June 2017

Heroes RAAM Challenge 2017 with Mark Cavendish. Picture Andy Hooper

Heroes RAAM Challenge 2017 with Mark Cavendish. Picture Andy Hooper

Archant

He travelled nearly 3,500 miles to fight for his country in Afghanistan.

Ryan Gray, who is taking on a cycling challenge across America,. Picture Andy HooperRyan Gray, who is taking on a cycling challenge across America,. Picture Andy Hooper

But now 24-year-old Ryan Gray will cycle the 3,081-mile Race Across America (RAAM) to raise money for those who fought for him when he was blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Mr Gray, who lives in Great Moulton, now spends hours training for the challenge, which will see him cross 12 US states to raise money for Help for Heroes.

But six years ago, he never thought he would again be fit enough to take on such a demanding physical challenge again.

Mr Gray, then a keen football player, joined the Army when he turned 16 and was deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

Ryan Gray in Afghanistan. Photo: SuppliedRyan Gray in Afghanistan. Photo: Supplied

But on February 14, 2011, an IED blast in an area in the south of the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province caused Mr Gray to ‘die’ twice - once in a helicopter and then again in the operating theatre. But skilled doctors brought the then 18-year-old back to life.

Fellow soldier Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall was killed in the explosion.

Then came the long road to recovery, as Mr Gray spent around two years in Headley Court rehabilitation unit in Surrey, undergoing 23 operations.

While rebuilding his strength he found cycling helped to develop muscle growth in his leg and he has since taken on the hobby to raise money, and found a new career path in maintaining bikes for Halfords.

Ryan Gray in Afghanistan. Photo: SuppliedRyan Gray in Afghanistan. Photo: Supplied

Having already taken on rides spanning 70km and 2000km, his new challenge will be his most difficult yet.

“It’s quite hard,” said Mr Gray. “It’s been quite a tough selection for the team, we’ve just come back from a 48-hour practice run.

“Cycling has been quite good for my rehabilitation and my legs because it’s not weight-bearing.

“I used to play a lot of football, which I can’t really do now, so this is good.”

Mr Gray will be cycling alongside seven other team mates, some of them in recumbent or hand bikes due to their injuries.

He added: “In 2012, Team Battle Back completed the RAAM in a time of seven days, seven hours and 38 minutes. The Help for Heroes team intends to beat this time and complete the RAAM in under seven days. This will be no small feat as the team will need to maintain an average speed of over 18.3 mph covering a minimum of 440 miles a day.”

The team as a whole is hoping to raise £100,000 for Help for Heroes.

“I am quite nervous,” Mr Gray added.

• To follow Mr Gray’s progress, search Heroes RAAM Challenge 2017 on Facebook, heroesraam2017 on Instagram or @H4H_Cycling on Twitter. You can also use the hashtags #followtheHeroes #H4HRAAM2017

• To donate, click here.

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