Paralysed war veteran becomes first person to walk across UK on crutches for bereaved military children

In 2010, while serving in Afghanistan, Mark Harding was shot through the neck. His C5 and C6 spinal segments were completely shattered, resulting in him becoming paralysed from the neck down. Despite being told multiple times that he would never walk again, Mark slowly started to regain some movement, and has now completed a challenge that his doctors would have thought impossible – walking the entire length of the UK! 

Mark began his Big Miles For Little Smiles Challenge on 13 May this year to raise funds for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity that supports hundreds of children and young people who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces.  

It’s understood that Mark is the first disabled person to walk the entire length of the UK – a feat which he accomplished entirely unassisted. Starting in John O’Groats, Mark walked through Scotland, passed his hometown of Carlisle, then travelled through Penrith, Lancaster, Preston, Warrington, Shrewsbury, Hereford, Bristol, Cornwall, and lots of towns and villages in-between. He finished at the iconic Land’s End signpost, where he was greeted by members of the Armed Forces community and interviewed live on ITV’s This Morning by Andi Peters and Rochelle Humes. His epic journey has taken 104 days.

Mark says: 

“This has been the most mentally and physically difficult thing I’ve ever done. I can’t believe it’s over, to be honest. I’ve seen parts of the country most people don’t know even exist and met so many great people on the way. I’ve loved seeing people’s reactions when they find out what I’m doing and the support from everyone has been incredible. This is obviously a massive thing for me and I’m just grateful I can help raise money for Scotty’s.” 

He continues:

“As a result of nerve damage from being shot through the neck, I can’t have children now. For me, this has been a way of helping everyone else’s kids. It’s a way for me to have a really positive impact on children’s lives. Due to my injury, I have no feeling in my right leg and my foot drags when I’m tired, so I did the walk on crutches with everything I needed for the journey in a rucksack.” 

His journey hasn’t come without challenges. When Mark was in Kingstown, he was hit by a van and took a blow to his legs. 

“I was chatting with a couple about Scotty’s on my way down to Kingstown when a van reversed over me. My rucksack got stuck beneath it and I was getting sort of dragged along on the concrete. The couple I was chatting to were banging on the side of the van to get it to stop. I’m lucky it didn’t keep going or I’d probably be dead.” 

Mark has received a huge amount of support from the British Public, as well as special letters from King Charles, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs Johnny Mercer. Today, he also received the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award – presented to outstanding individuals making a positive change in their community. 

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Rt Hon. Johnny Mercer MP, said:

“Lance Corporal Mark Harding refused to be held back by the injuries sustained serving his country. He brilliantly showcases the commitment of veterans across the country. I want to thank Mark for his excellent work fundraising tirelessly for third sector charity partners who do so much to support our ex-military personnel.” 

Speaking about these acknowledgements, Mark says: “The recognition I’ve received is amazing, especially from the King. It blows me away to think I wrote a letter to the King and Queen and they actually took the time to read it and respond. I think it really just highlights how important the cause is that even the Royal Family took the time to acknowledge it.”  

Mark started his challenge shortly after the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, which he commemorated by carrying a flag of The King for the duration of the challenge. 

“I’m already thinking about my next challenge. Being disabled, a lot of people write you off, especially if it’s an obvious disability, like if you’re missing a limb or in a wheelchair. I don’t mean that in a bad way – it comes from a decent place – but I think you’re seen as a bit more fragile. But a lot of the people I served with who were also injured have gone on to do really amazing things. That military mindset doesn’t just leave you because you’re disabled.”

Mark attributes this mindset to part of the reason he’s been able to defeat such a massive challenge.  

“I was always looking ahead, always thinking about reaching the next town. It kept me focussed and that’s why I’ve been able to do so well. Even on my rest days, I was walking four or five miles. It all adds up. It was the same when I was recovering from my injury – I just took one little step at a time and eventually it made a really big difference. I constantly want to keep on progressing and pushing myself. I think I’ve always been this way. When I was in the Army, I always wanted to be as good as I could be. Even when the doctors told me I was paralysed, I was focussed on keeping the ball rolling, keeping my momentum going, because that’s how I improve. I don’t like stopping.” 

Since 2012, Mark has been taking on extreme fundraising challenges for military charities that mean a lot to him, and in 2021 was named ITV’s Pride of Britain Regional Fundraiser of the Year. He is also a finalist for the Soldiering On 2023 Inspiration Award. However, even for someone as experienced as Mark, this challenge hasn’t been easy. 

“This is the pinnacle of everything I’ve done up to now, really. The hardest bit was definitely walking on the A roads with all the cars speeding past my shoulder. It’s a bit of a mental game, especially after getting hit by the van in Carlisle. I’ve always got that ‘what if’ in the back of my mind. Plus, it’s just draining when you’re walking down the same road day after day. When I was walking through a nice quiet bit of countryside, though, it was totally different. I was shocked by the impact it had, to be honest. It gets rid of all that brain fog and I’ve been to some beautiful bits of the country I never would have seen otherwise. It’s been a great experience.”  

Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a tri-service charity dedicated to supporting children and young people (0 to 25 years) who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces.    

Inspired by the experience of Army widow Nikki Scott, following the death of her husband Corporal Lee Scott in Afghanistan in 2009, the charity, which was set up in 2010, provides support and guidance to hundreds of bereaved military children and young people throughout their childhood.  

Scotty’s currently has over 600 members and services offered include access to child bereavement support, guidance to parents and carers, personal education and learning assistance (including grants), and fun activities such as holiday respite breaks and group events. These are all designed to remind the children and young people supported by Scotty’s that they are not alone. 

Scotty’s Little Soldiers Founder, Nikki Scott, said of Mark’s challenge: 

“He’s done it! What Mark has achieved for bereaved British Forces children and young people is absolutely incredible and I can’t thank him enough for his dedication and support. I know how much this challenge has meant to him and everyone at Scotty’s has loved seeing his updates and hearing how he’s doing. I hope over the next few days he’s able to relax and reflect on the unbelievable thing he’s just done and take in what an inspiration he is.” 


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