While serving as a plant operating mechanic with 25 Regiment, Chris Yates trained as a mountain bike instructor. But after being crushed by a tailgate that fell off a lorry while he was lowering it, he was left with prolapsed disks in his lower back, a narrowed spinal canal and severe nerve pain as well as a paralysed bladder and damaged kidney. Chris was unable to come to terms with the life changes that such injuries entailed, the father of three suffered enormously from depression. That, coupled with recurring kidney infections that hospitalised Chris on a regular basis, meant life at home was difficult for his wife Sam – not least because their youngest daughter Sadie was only three months old at the time of the accident. Relocated to Catterick Garrison from Cambridgeshire where they lived at the time has benefited all the family With Sam’s relatives living in nearby County Durham, she now has more support for herself and the children, while Chris found a new lease of life through Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre at Phoenix House
On discharge from the Army, Chris was told I would never ride a bike again but the attitude of Mark Airey, the Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator at Phoenix House, is ‘Never say Never’ and he encouraged him to use a recumbent bike “When I first used one, it felt amazing. Even though you are lower to the ground, it actually is less scary than an upright bike when a huge lorry goes past as you don’t wobble or rock. It’s awesome!” Now thanks to a Help for Heroes grant that enabled Chris to buy his own bike, he can go out and about whenever he wants. His first priority is to use the vehicle to get himself fit and healthy in preparation for an operation in the next few months, after which he will start some serious training with a view to taking part in one of the Charity’s Hero Rides in 2016.
In between times, he is looking forward to going out for bike rides with his children – Holly, ten, Alfie, six, and Sadie, four. After a long series of medical treatments, Chris’s next aim is to gain qualifications that will help him find a new career – in conservation. “Conservation is a massive thing for me. I want to get out there and be really hands on,” he said. “It’s about creating a better environment, not just for animals, but for us too. I want to start a business in making a happy environment for all of us, from flowers, to animals to humans. It’s basically an ‘environment enhancer’ role.”
Chris is just one of more than 90 North East veterans who have received funding from Help for Heroes for something that will help them adapt to life post injury or illness.
Others have received funding for housing adaptations; vehicle adaptations to provide greater independence; emergency financial support for a family while their loved one is being treated; and a memory foam mattress for an individual with long-term spinal damage, who had been sleeping on his mother’s sofa.