Josh Pelland served as a Royal Marines Commando and in Special Operations Units. During his time in the Marines Josh deployed to Afghanistan, the Middle East and got to experience so much of the World on various operations. He left the Royal Marines in 2011 after 6 years.
Upon leaving the Corps he moved into the private security sector, working as an advisor for Maritime companies at the height of Somali piracy. He had to constantly adapt, improvise and overcome whilst working throughout Africa in these turbulent times.
Once he had made the decision to return home, he found the transition back to civilian life painful. Struggling to organise and contextualise his experiences to translate them into relevant and useful markers to help him find work, the battle to start life on ‘civvi street’ was cruel.
“My identity and purpose had disappeared over night and doubt was a constant reminder. This period was brutal by all aspects, and my goals and focus started to become overridden by the difficulty.”
He started to structure his life with exercise and used climbing as an escape and as a way of processing and healing the emotion that he was dealing with. He took his passion for climbing to an extreme and forced himself into a strict routine that afforded him the chance to mentally escape. Although Josh describes the feeling that climbing gave him as healing, he has also spoken about the deeper and darker elements that drove him; that he was punishing himself for enjoying his freedom amidst so much grief and loss.
In June 2016, aged 31, Josh fell 65 feet whilst climbing in his home town of Calgary, Canada. The accident caused major injuries, including paralysis below the chest and life-threatening infections. He had no memory of the accident.
When Josh began to regain consciousness in hospital, he was incredibly disorientated and described the “fear that swept over (him) as (he) slipped into darkness.”
“My mind was telling me that I was back on operations and had been captured by the enemy. I had to escape and get out of this nightmare. But I can’t. I can’t move and I can’t see. I was restrained in the hospital bed as I had been attempting to grab at anything I could to make my way out of my trauma and medication-induced nightmare.”
He drifted between reality and horror for almost a month in a hospital bed in Vancouver before he was airlifted to a hospital closer to home in Calgary, Canada. He spent another month in bed before he started rehabilitation and learned more about what had happened to him.
A climber that saw the accident reached out to Josh and described the moment that he had fallen, one moment he had been attached to an anchor and the next he had fallen 65 feet to the ground.
This was the first instance that Josh was referred to RMA – The Royal Marines Charity by his close network of Royal Marine friends. Despite Josh being located in a remote area of Canada, we were able to liaise with the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League to request a visit from a Royal Canadian Legion caseworker.
The purpose of the caseworker visit was to complete a full assessment of needs, enabling us to consider the best way to assist. As a result of the visit, various items were identified that Josh needed, but would not be able to self-fund. Josh needed a specialist wheelchair, and chair-lift to allow safe entry/exit to the family home. Substantial building modifications, to suit his needs, had already been completed by his parents.
At this time RMA – The Royal Marines Charity awarded a grant for £2000 to contribute towards the purchase of a vital specialist wheel chair, which ensured that the young former Royal Marine could remain as independent and active as possible.
“I laid in bed reflecting on this and other examples of courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in adversity in those around me and leadership above me. I found that the experiences I had had in my life up until this point and the lessons modelled by others were deeply engrained in me. I drew strength from these to help me through the next several months of rehabilitation. The outpouring of support from friends and family was overwhelming, and it still is today. A primary support in this time was the RMA through the Canadian Legion, who in many instances made provisions for my rehabilitation and accelerated my ability to transition home smoothly and safely.”
Despite the huge set back that Josh has faced, he has remained undeterred and was ultimately determined to face the spinal chord injury the way he has faced every other obstacle in front of him, face on. He has channelled all of his energy into expanding beyond his injury, coupled with his positive mindset he is accomplishing amazing things within competitive cycling.
Recently the Charity has been at Josh’s side once more, to help fund the purchase of a specialist hand bike in order to support his training with the Canadian Elite Disability Sports Programme.
“I have continued to train and race and push myself physically and mentally as an athlete, again with the support of the RMA to fund my training. I received help to purchase a new hand cycle and to pay coaches that have helped me stay competitive in the Cycling Canada program. This support has done more than just supply funds, it has bolstered me, kept me focused on goals, and amplified that focus. In the midst of the hardship of my injury and transition home and into sport, the support I have received has kept me going in a positive direction, both physically and mentally. “
RMA – The Royal Marines Charity remain dedicated to providing through-life support to those in the Royal Marines Family that need it. Josh has shown incredible strength in the face of adversity and has drawn upon all of his training to pull him through some of the darkest times of his life, we were at his side to make sure he had every chance of success.
Never above you, never below you, always by your side.