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Steven setting sights on Paralympic sailing; Solider who lost legs in Afghan blast focuses on sport.

Byline: TOM MULLEN ; SARAH SCOTT

A GEORDIE soldier who lost his legs in a roadside bomb blast has set his sights on the Paralympics.

Steven Palmer, 29, from Tynemouth, was on a routine patrol in Afghanistan's war-torn Helmand Province when the deadly device exploded and changed his life forever.

The February 2010 blast left the squaddie needing life-saving operations and nine weeks of intensive treatment back in the UK.

But now the brave Lance Corporal, of 28 Royal Engineers, has completed such a hugely successful period of rehabilitation he is dreaming about once again enjoying his old hobby - sailing.

And his ambition has been given a boost from the Help for Heroes charity, who have presented L-Cpl Palmer with a specially-adapted pounds 2.4m racing boat.

It will enable him to take part in the Paralympics Sailing Development Programme, a scheme designed to train people up for the games.

The Geordie hero, who will now learn to use prosthetic limbs after losing both legs above the knee, has made the 2016 Paralympics in Rio his ultimate goal and is being backed all the way by his carers at the Headley Court rehabilitation centre in Surrey.

L-Cpl Palmer, who started sailing at school and with the sea scouts, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for me. To have the boat funded means that my dream can become a reality.

"My ultimate goal is to make the team for Rio in 2016, and that wouldn't have been possible without the help of so many. I'm so grateful to everyone who has made this possible."

L-Cpl Palmer was leading a squad of 12 along a track in Helmand Province in Afghanistan when what looked like no more than a patch of disturbed earth at first sight exploded, throwing him through the air and ultimately costing him both of his legs.

But almost two years after the incident, L-Cpl Palmer is setting his sights on Paralympic glory.

He said: "I started sailing when I was quite young on dinghies, and have always really enjoyed the sport. Now, with a disability, sailing is great because you're all equal on the water, and I feel I can compete against able bodied people too. I love the sense of freedom being on the water gives me.

"About a year and a half after I was injured, I wanted to get back into sailing. When I was at Headley Court, someone suggested I try it out again and I haven't looked back since."

At Headley Court, L-Cpl Palmer became involved with Battle Back, a UK Military initiative that encourages wounded personnel to take on new sports and challenges.

Since he lost his legs L-Cpl Palmer, who followed his father into the army at the age of 21, has been part of a group of soldiers to embark on a 560-mile march around the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, and has competed in the Great North Run.

L-Cpl Palmer added: "2016 still seems a long way off, but it is a massive goal to hope and train for. I will push myself to the limit to try and reach it. To have this dream on the horizon to focus on is really important for my rehabilitation; it gives me something to aim for over the next 4 years."

CAPTION(S):

DREAM L-Cpl Steven Palmer with Britain's first ever Paralympic sailing Gold medallist, Andy Cassell GOAL L-Cpl Steven Palmer competing in a Help for Heroes event in Paris
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 16, 2012
Words:578
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