It was November 1998 when I was on a green patrol in Northern Ireland to Lisburn Barracks. I was waiting for some of the guys to get back and was standing very close to the first of two car bombs that went off inside the barracks themselves. Because of my proximity to the explosion, my hearing was permanently damaged and I was subsequently medically discharged from the army. Just like that, my whole world crumbled before me.
I joined the army when I was only 16-years-old and it became my whole life. I served with The Royal Green Jackets as an Army Physical Training Instructor for most of my career, and would have been happy to continue in this way had it not been for an IRA car bomb exploding next to me one day, leaving me heavily deaf in my left ear, and quite badly damaged in my right.
The most painful result of my hearing loss of course was the fact that I was forced to leave the army. I couldn’t even join the Territorial Army and have a little part of my military life back. The army was my whole life and it was all I ever wanted to do from a very young age. Without it I felt totally lost and I do feel that my life was stolen from me somewhat.
The explosion left me with major migraines, headaches that would knock me out for days, where I would just want to lock myself away in a dark room. Trying to get my life in order and live like a normal person was made much more of a struggle because I couldn’t hear people talking to me properly or hear what was going on around me.
Once I started working again I found my hearing problems really embarrassing at times. In large conferences I would be asked a question and I couldn’t hear it or I’d only hear half a conversation and give a totally wrong answer or opinion. I felt like hearing problems were something that happened to old people, that someone at my age shouldn’t be dealing with having to say ‘excuse me?’ all the time.
It also had a big impact on my social life. I remember feeling very isolated at times, the hardest situations being in large groups and social events where I just felt left outside of the loop because I just could not hear what people were saying. I would often avoid meeting up with friends because I felt like a burden but this just left me feeling even more isolated than before. It was a horrible catch 22 situation.
I eventually admitted to myself that I had a problem and needed to do something about it- my family had also had enough of me turning up the volume to max on the TV! The first hearing aids I tried were from the NHS. They were huge bulky things that sat on the back of my ear and left me feeling self conscious and even more embarrassed than before. So I eventually stopped wearing them.
I felt like I was back to square one again, when I eventually saw an advert for what was said to be ‘hidden’ hearing aids. I thought this sounded too good to be true but that it might finally be the answer. So I set up an appointment with the company, hearing specialists Hidden Hearing, and it went from there. I’m now the proud owner of some discreet hearing aids and my life has improved beyond belief. It was great to finally be able to hear people properly and not worry that I was saying the wrong thing. I can even hear the trees blowing in the wind and birds sing which I could never hear before. And I don’t have to keep asking people to repeat themselves!
With my hearing problems improving I also eventually found the inspiration I needed to give my life drive and meaning again. I had the memory of reading an article in Ultra Fit Magazine about former soldier, Paddy Doyle, who also struggled with life outside of the army but who turned to endurance world record challenges to help him through it. This inspired me to make something of the rest of my life too, so I entered the 2002 London Marathon, broke my first endurance world record and the rest is history.
Since my first race I’ve broken over 40 world endurance records and taken on many of the toughest endurance challenges around the world, from the Marathon des Sables to the 6633 Arctic Ultra. I now own my own gym and boot camp business and I am loving every minute of it!
My passion has always been centred around fitness and helping others to get fit and healthy. It’s a real buzz knowing that it was me that helped them to get there and knowing I’ve given people the confidence to conquer anything they want. I also eventually found my long-term girlfriend, Helen who has been a huge support through everything. I finally feel I am in a happy place in my life and have a lot to be thankful for.
By Mike Buss for The Independent