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Fitness & Health

04th Oct 2019

Soldier who lost legs in Afghanistan says wheelchair rugby saved his life

James Simpson was a soldier serving in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED. The impact cost him his legs, but wheelchair rugby has turned his life around

Alex Roberts

‘Losing my legs was a life changing event, but I couldn’t just sit there and let my life be over’

James Simpson was a soldier in the British Army serving in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED. The impact cost James his legs, but wheelchair rugby has given him a new lease of life.

JOE recently met James in Wrexham, where the Yorkshireman was playing for the England national team in the tri-nations wheelchair rugby league tournament against Scotland and Wales.

James on the incident that cost him his legs:

“We were in a village in Helmand and we’d been to set up a medical clinic and take lots of supplies over to the villagers because they were building a school and things like that.

“On the way back, we were going across an open desert area and there was a ditch. We started going through the ditch, there was an IED buried in it. The first couple of guys went over it and didn’t trigger it. I stepped in the ditch, the IED detonated and then obviously took off both my legs.”

James on fighting his way back to fitness:

“I couldn’t just sit there and let my life be over. I had to keep going and keep moving and keep getting on with my life.”

How James got involved in wheelchair rugby:

“After getting injured I was in London in 2012, volunteering at the Paralympics. I was watching the wheelchair basketball and I was like, ‘I need to find a sport’, a reason to stay in shape.

“Coming back to Leeds, I got a season ticket at Headingley and went on to watch Leeds Rhinos and then just saw some of the guys with the wheelchair rugby league shirts on. I thought, ‘right, I need to get involved.”

James on the power of the sport:

“I just started playing to get out of the house and meet new people, and just to be fit and active, and I never thought it’d lead me to represent England. So it’s been an incredible journey.

“Everyone’s super motivated. Everyone’s gone on their own journey. They’ve had to overcome something to be here. ”

On the inclusive nature of wheelchair rugby league:

“I’m biased, but I think wheelchair rugby league is the most inclusive sport out there. You’ve got male athletes, female athletes, one of our debut players today is 17, and then you’ve got me who is 33.”

James Simpson is working with Dacia on their We Make Heroes campaign, celebrating understated heroes throughout Rugby League. To find out more, visit