A WAR veteran, who was told he would never walk again after being shot in Afghanistan, is championing one of Scotland’s most gruelling challenges.
After Mark Harding (47) was shot in the neck by a Taliban sniper in 2010 he was left paralysed. Through courage, discipline, and teamwork, he is now able to walk with the use of crutches.
Last night (Monday 13 November 2023), just two months after completing a hugely challenging fundraising walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End, the first person to ever do so on crutches, Mark was unveiled as the new Ambassador for Army Benevolent Fund’s 2024 Cateran Yomp.
Supported by headline sponsor Babcock, the 2024 event will once again challenge teams of soldiers, veterans and civilians to walk 22, 36 or 54 miles across the rugged terrain of the Perthshire countryside within 24 hours.
Participants will head off on the Cateran Trail in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains at 6am on Saturday 8 June 2024, returning to Blairgowrie in the early hours of Sunday 9 June. Next year’s event, which falls just two days after the 80th anniversary of D-Day, also coincides with the charity’s 80th anniversary.
Speaking at the launch of the 13th Annual Cateran Yomp at Edinburgh Castle, the British Army Sergeant Major, WO1 Paul Carney encouraged others to join or sponsor the event which has, since its launch, raised over £4M for the Army’s National Charity. Last year’s event raised £300,000 for soldiers, veterans and their families, with 1200 participants travelling from across the UK and around the world. Looking to the future, the Cateran Yomp team hopes to raise £1M each year to match the growing need for support from soldiers, veterans and their families in Scotland.
Mark Harding served with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment for 16 years, mostly as a sniper with the Reconnaissance platoon. His service included operational tours in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, while leading a routine patrol in Afghanistan, Mark was shot by a Taliban sniper. Despite doctors’ predictions, Mark was determined to overcome his injuries and learn to walk again, a goal he achieved two and a half years later.
Mark said, “When I was injured and lying in hospital for seven months, paralysed from the neck down, Army Benevolent Fund stepped up and awarded a grant to convert my house, creating a downstairs bedroom, widening doors, and moving my garage which is now a gym. This was when my recovery, both physical and mental, really started. I could see a future again.”
Army Benevolent Fund also provided grants for training equipment to develop Mark’s love of kayaking. He went on to be selected for the GB Sprint Kayaking squad and has competed in countless additional fitness challenges all over the world, raising tens of thousands of pounds for the charity. He went on to win the ‘Inspiration’ category of the Soldiering On Awards in recognition of his fundraising and his courage in overcoming the serious injuries he sustained during service.
Mark added, “For individuals and businesses considering The Cateran Yomp, I urge them to go for it. Every step they take will raise more money, not just for veterans but their families too. People don’t realise that the partners, husbands, and wives are the backbone of these soldiers, so they can go and do their job. People tell me they couldn’t do what I do but everything is doable. Soldiers are taught to flip negatives into positives and that’s what I’m doing. Find what works for you, and do it.”
WO1 Paul Carney, who is also a Trustee of Army Benevolent Fund, added, “Having joined the British Army as a combat engineer almost 30 years ago, and served in Macedonia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, I observe the dedication and commitment of our soldiers every day.
The Cateran Yomp showcases the values of the modern British Army: preparation, training, camaraderie, teamwork and physical and mental resilience. I’m encouraging representatives from across the Army and the wider community to take part and help the ABF build on its important work.”
Jon Murley, Head of Business Development, Through Life Equipment Support (Land) at Babcock, said, “We are delighted to be the headline sponsor for this year’s Cateran Yomp and look forward to working with ABF to support its work with serving soldiers, veterans and their families. Babcock works closely with the British Army through a variety of contracts, as well as employing service leavers and reservists. We will be encouraging our staff to sign up to take part in the Cateran Yomp itself or to volunteer to support the event in a number of volunteering roles and we look forward to working with ABF over the coming year to continue to strengthen our long-standing support for the Army enterprise.”
As well as Babcock, this year’s event is sponsored by Famous Grouse, Dover Fueling Solutions and Arnold Clark.
Major General Tim Hyams CB OBE, CEO of Army Benevolent Fund, added, “We are so grateful to all our fundraisers and supporters for their incredible generosity, which enables us to ensure that soldiers, veterans, and their immediate families have the opportunity to avoid hardship and enjoy independence and dignity. We are very much looking forward to seeing you all in Scotland in June, when we will be joined by this year’s Ambassador, Mark Harding, who was awarded the Inspiration Award at the 2023 Soldiering On Awards in recognition of his amazing fundraising activities and sheer courage in overcoming injuries sustained on operations in Afghanistan.”