The Sir John Slessor Memorial Lecture will be hosted by Robert Courts MP on Wednesday 13th March 2019
When Luke Sinnott lost both of his legs in an explosion nine years ago, he knew that dealing with his life-changing injuries would prove an ongoing battle – both physically and mentally.
Luke Sinnott, Former British Army Captain, double amputee, Team GB Paralympian, Invictus games athlete and Air League disabled veteran flying scholar will deliver the Sir John Slessor Memorial Lecture in 2019 sharing his story on his recovery and his passion to inspire others.
‘Is anybody hurt?’
The question he barked out to his team moments after impact. No one heard, everyone’s ears still ringing from the power of the blast, his own included. One ear drum perforated, the other badly damaged. Through the thick dust cloud he tried to grapple for his weapon, but his arms wouldn’t move. Realisation. It was him. In the seconds and minutes that followed, Luke’s team worked fiercely and fearlessly to save his life. They wound tourniquets round his legs and arms, lifted his broken body onto a stretcher and lay their own bodies across his to protect his open wounds as the blades of the descending chinook whisked dust and debris into the air. Still barking orders until the moment he was in the helicopter and then his last order; ‘Knock me out.’
It was the 20th November 2010, when Luke’s life took a catastrophic turn. While out on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in his role as a Royal Engineer Search Advisor (RESA), he stepped on, and detonated an IED. The blast claimed both his legs above the knee, severely damaged his left arm, and broke multiple bones and fingers on his right. He also sustained severe damage to his lungs and shrapnel to his face and torso. He was airlifted to Bastion where surgeons began the amputation of his limbs and stabilizing him for the flight back to Birmingham. He would spend the next 2 weeks fighting for his life in an induced coma and the following 7 weeks in and out of surgery while doctors tried to repair and retain as much of his limbs as they could.
With life changing injury, comes a life changing decision. Do or die. Luke had to decide if this was going to get the best of him, or he of it. For him, however, it was never in doubt. He battled his injuries head on and always considered his glass to be half full, even during times when it was almost empty. His incredible inner strength powered him on, helping him to overcome any number of hurdles and endure the excruciating pain of intense rehabilitation. His personal mantra; Never give up. Failure is not an option. He still had life and he was going to live it.
‘For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated with flying. it was my intention to fly in the military, but sadly the Taliban put an end to that. In the early days after injury I still needed a lot of revision work done on my legs which meant I was stuck in my wheelchair and unable to continue practising walking. I was frustrated and I had some of my most emotionally challenging days. When Aerobility offered to take me up in a plane, I jumped (ha!) at the chance and the feeling was indescribable. Racing across the skies I felt free, I didn’t feel like a man who had lost his legs, I was on a level playing field. Legs didn’t matter.’
Following Injury, Luke had assumed that flying would not be an option, that it was very difficult and highly selective and only the brightest, fully able bodied people need apply. Then he discovered Aerobility, a charity which specialises in disabled flying, and his whole world opened up. As it turned out, the brightest disabled people could soar through the skies just as well. Luke was even more inspired by the forward thinking and very ‘can do’ attitude toward disabled pilots shown by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Luke passed his commercial pilots medical with flying colours!
While learning to fly an adapted PA28 with Aerobility, Luke heard about a flying expedition to Antarctica with a group called Flying For Freedom (FFF). So in November 2011, Luke was one of the first injured personnel to climb into a microlight and became a founding member, and later a trustee of the charity Flying For Freedom. From initial tests and modifications made to the microlights to accommodate his prosthesis, to development of ‘flying’ legs with his prosthetist, Luke again pushed boundaries and paved way for others to do the same.
Of that first flight he said:
‘On first sight, I didn’t like the look of it, in fact it looked suicidal to fly one! But I reluctantly got in to save face with the people who had invited me over. The moment we lined up on the runway, and I felt the buzz of taking off so low to the ground, I was hooked. The views were breathtaking and completely unobscured by the aircraft.’
He experienced such a huge sense of freedom and release from the limitations of his injuries when soaring the skies in the open cockpit of the aircraft and almost immediately became passionate about how this experience could also be life affirming, and life altering for others in his position. A year after his first flight Luke earned his pilots licence and was given free reign of the skies. Since then Luke has lead a circumnavigation expedition of the UK, supported less experienced pilots to plan and organise expeditions, and in his role as trustee, recruited many new wounded, injured or sick (WIS) personnel to join the scheme and take part in an expedition over France and many key battlefield sites of WW1.
The team are still aiming for Antarctica in 2020.
Luke was the recepient of the 2017 Air League Disabled Balooning Scholarship sponsored by Boeing UK and is now a qualified balloonist.
Luke Sinnott, Team GB
‘After losing my legs, running was the thing I missed the most. That feeling of moving fast under my own steam. The prosthetic order of things meant running was only reserved for those who had mastered walking and leg care. You had to work hard and be patient to get on running blades. It took me nearly 3 years, hampered by surgery, to get there. It hurt, it was exhausting and my leg fell off twice… I was hooked.’
Luke has always had a keen interest in sport so it was no surprise that sport should go on to play a pivotal role in his recovery. For him, sport challenged him physically, it drove him to overcome hurdles and the limitations of his injuries, it was the catalyst that gave him the strength, skills and resilience to move from stubbies, to Geniums, to blades. It challenged him mentally too. He had to be creative, to work out how to do something that required legs, without them. To float, to balance, to run. Sport required him to be disciplined, to be precise, to reflect on and improve his performance. It prepared him to be a prosthetic user, and it enables him to stay fit enough to use them.
When Luke and his team were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, as well as completing the right training, like the medical first aid training that saved Luke’s life, they also had to get their hearts and minds in the right place. Before they left they had to discuss the quite real threat of injury, the very real threat to their lives and find a way to look the danger in the eye and not be afraid. They made a pact. If anyone of them was injured, that soldier would fight on and represent their country once again, on the Paralympic stage. Luke intends to keep his promise and has his sights on Tokyo 2020.
Now a T42 Long Jumper, Luke has competed at international events in Dubai, Italy, Berlin, Paris and the US as well as at home in the UK, and will be representing Team GB at the Para Athletics World Championships in July.
Sport is also about teams and team work and Luke would not have recovered the way he has without the unique support and understanding he shares with other injured personnel. They fought together and they fought back together and this spirit is perfectly encompassed by the ethos of the Invictus Games. It is about competition and striving to do your best, but more importantly its about lifting others, inspiring others and enabling people who have been on incredibly difficult personal journeys to achieve something they never thought could be possible. Its celebrating recovery and celebrating everyone for what they gave for their country. Luke is extremely proud to have represented Team GB in athletics at the Invictus Games in Florida in 2016 and Toronto in 2017.
- Please note this is a strictly members only event
- Registration of this event will not guarantee entry.
- Invitation cards will be issued on confirmation of a valid Air League membership number and will be required for entry into the Palace of Westminster
- Please note places are limited for different grades of Air League membership