From a severed leg to Britain's Strongest Disabled Man
"Losing my leg was the best thing to ever happen to me."
Mark Smith had to have his leg amputated after a horror shooting incident in 2011, but he has since gone on to become Britain's Strongest Disabled Man on two separate occasions.
He'd always wanted to join the army from the age of 14 and admitted he "didn't have an enjoyable experience" at school.
"I didn't see myself sat at a desk," he says, speaking from his home in Milton Keynes.
For Mark, life in the army offered the opportunity to start afresh, live away from home, meet new people and make new friends.
It was during one of these periods away from home that his life changed forever.
"It was 2011 and we were in Canada doing our pre-deployment training before going out to Afghanistan the following year.
"Those of us who were qualified to oversee live firing ranges were there to assist the next regiment doing their training.
"It was during a platoon attack in the live firing range that I was shot seven times through an MDF compound wall. They're really thin, and only there to simulate going through compounds in Afghanistan."
Mark was blasted seven times in the right leg, severing an artery in the process, and once in the shoulder.
He would have bled to death if a tourniquet hadn't immediately been applied, but worse was to come.
In the helicopter journey to hospital, he flatlined and was essentially dead for five whole minutes. This re-occurred in hospital, when doctors made the decision to amputate his leg above the knee.
"My leg was causing organ failure around the rest of my body. Doctors said they had to amputate if I was to stay alive."
Mark initially struggled to come to terms with his injury.
"Being disabled wasn't really the thing that upset me, it was knowing I couldn't play football anymore or stay in the forces."
His move into fitness began not long after his injury, when he was well enough to be moved to Headley Court, the British Army's rehabilitation centre in Surrey.
"I was struggling with not knowing what my next career move would be.
"I kept telling the occupational therapists I wanted to do something where I stayed active. With all my own time, I kept spending it in the gym.
He began to see progress, not only on his prosthetic leg but in most of his gym lifts.
"Obviously, I couldn't do conventional squats, so I had to make use of hack squats. I'd already been told off for breaking a prosthetic when I was trying to squat."
Feeling encouraged for the first time in years, Mark stumbled across an American bodybuilding division dedicated to the disabled - particularly those with prosthetic limbs.
"I thought that would be a good goal to have, as I'd gone down to nine stone in hospital. I was determined not to stay like that."
The cycle of training and strict dieting came naturally to someone who'd only known life in regimented terms.
He ended up competing in numerous adaptive bodybuilding competitions, namely in 2015, when he placed first at the NPC Phil Heath Classic. One of the most successful bodybuilders ever, Phil Heath joined Mark on stage in the wake of his success.
Despite experiencing success on the bodybuilding stage, he decided to chance his hand at strongman.
Mark attended a disabled strongman taster day in Kent, and from there his interest grew.
"People would say, 'Why would you want to pull a truck? It's hard work.'
"Hard work is digging a six foot trench, hallucinating and only having 20 minutes sleep in ten days."
Having never previously attempted strongman, Mark lifted a 100 kilogram atlas stone on his first attempt.
He was persuaded to enter Britain's Strongest Disabled Man six weeks later.
Mark's wife and children attended, cheering him on as he took on the day's first event - the dreaded truck pull.
"It's done seated, facing the truck, and is a 25-metre pull so it's all back and biceps."
He won the truck pull, but still only considered himself an outlier. The log press was a lot tougher.
"I was shot in the shoulder, so I'm missing part of the anterior deltoid on the right side.
"In bodybuilding, you can maybe get away with that. In strongman, you can't."
Mark realised he had a chance of winning the entire competition when it came to the Hercules hold.
"I'd never done any grip work, they were 80 kilos, so I was expecting to let go straight away.
"But I ended up zoning out, closing my eyes and slowing my breathing down. I broke the world record, holding them for four minutes and one second."
Winning the Hercules hold meant Mark could go last on the car deadlift. He knew exactly how many reps he needed to complete, and won that event too.
The day culminated in the atlas stone session, where he had to rack all five stones to win. All five went up, and Mark was called out as the winner.
"I went there just to enjoy the day and ended up winning it."
Mark has since gone on to win the competition a second time, in addition to playing amputee football for West Brom. Such is his success, he believes losing his leg "was the best thing to ever happen" to him.
"If there was ever a right time to lose a limb, it's probably now - or in the last couple of years.
"People's perceptions of disability, and what we can achieve, have changed - and there are so many avenues to explore."
Mark's book, 'Strength of Mind', is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition.