Rally great! Philip is Ballymena’s ‘local hero’
JUST two years ago Philip Gillespie was beginning months of rehabilitation after his leg was blown off when he stepped on a mine in Afghanistan.
But last Saturday night, the Ballymena man made history when he was part of the first ever disability team to complete the world’s toughest race – the Dakar Rally.
Phillip is an integral member of the Race2Recovery team which is made up of British members of the armed forces who were seriously wounded in action.
Along with teammate Matt O’Hare, their Land Rover Defender-based Wildcat race vehicle crossed the finish line of the final stage in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday evening to signal the end of an extraordinary two weeks of racing.
They were the last vehicle remaining after the team’s three Wildcat vehicles fell out of the race at various stages along the way.
Phillip, who is known as Barney to friends, was quick to praise teammates, including the mechanics and support team who helped him complete the gruelling test.
He said: “We have found out first-hand why they call the Dakar Rally the hardest race in the world. It has pushed every single one us to our limits and beyond. To be able to stand here at the finish line and say we achieved what we set out to achieve, to become the first ever disability team to complete the Dakar Rally, feels magical.
“Our team motto is ‘beyond injury – achieving the extraordinary’ and we’ve done just that. I hope that we’ve been able to inspire people who may be facing difficulties through injury or illness. The support we’ve received from everyone – our sponsors, supporters, families, friends, the military and complete strangers – has been amazing and is testament to the ability and dedication of this team.”
Ballymena was bouncing with pride on hearing the news and there was nobody more proud than girlfriend Kirsty Crawford who was particularly overwhelmed with relief.
It has been an anxious two weeks for Kirsty who has spent many nights checking for updates on the rally from her mobile phone.
Speaking to the Times on Monday her pride and joy at her boyfriend’s achievement was clear, she said: “He rang me once he was finished, we are all really excited and can’t believe it.
“I was waking up in the middle of the night and straight onto the phone to see if he has finished that stage.
“We thought at is wasn’t going to happen. As more and more cars dropped out of the race, including some big money teams all we could do was hope for the best.”
She added: “He said it is the hardest thing he has ever done, his car kept over heating and he only had four hours sleep in three days. His leg is killing him but he came through it really well. That’s him though he has that determined attitude to everything in life. If there are any problems or setbacks, he usually tells me to calm down and gets on with it, that’s just him.”
What big challenge is next for Phillip? A new job? Marriage? “That’s what everyone keeps saying!” Kirsty laughed, “I’m just looking forward to getting him home and getting him rested.”
The team’s achievement got the Royal seal of approval as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sent a personal message of congratulations today (Sunday) to the Race2Recovery team
The Duke and Duchess, who have followed the team’s progress since Day One said in their message: “Catherine and I have heard the wonderful news about your success today - many, many congratulations.
“We know it was not easy, but you have today become true record holders as the first ever disability team to complete what is one of the world’s toughest challenges.
“What you have achieved was a triumph of perseverance and teamwork, and you have shown the world what true valour looks like. We hope you get some rest now, and, please, no driving like that on our roads when you’re back!”
Cpl Phillip Gillespie said: “The messages of congratulations that we continue to receive are hugely valued by myself and the whole team. What’s also great about our success is that it continues to put the spotlight on the value of the recovery process for those servicemen and women who have been injured or ill. A huge goal of ours is to continue our fundraising for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre. We’re passionate about helping people who find themselves in a situation that many members of our team can relate to first-hand. The donations have continued to come in as we’ve been competing and I hope many more people will generously give their money to what we know is a fantastic cause”.
The Race2Recovery team’s four Wildcat race vehicles took to the start line in Lima, Peru on the morning of Saturday, January 5, signalling the start of 15 days of racing 9000km over extreme mountain and desert terrain. The first car eliminated from the race was that of Captain Tony Harris and his co-driver Cathy Derousseaux, who were disqualified after they did not pass sufficient way points on Stage 2 after having experienced mechanic issues during that stage.
A few days later, the race car of driver Justin Birchall and co-driver Corporal Tom Neathway was forced to retire after mechanical issues caused by a particularly punishing Stage 4 that saw a host of other vehicles also retire. On Stage 6, the third car of driver Ben Gott and co-driver US Marine SSgt Mark Zambon hit a ditch at speed and rolled. Whilst they avoided any serious injury the damage to the car meant they were unable to continue the race.
However, the team’s Wildcat vehicle ‘Joy’, donated to the team by the Peter Harrison Foundation and named after Peter’s wife, Joy, who sadly passed away in September last year, remained firmly in the race. Suffering from some over-heating problems during the first half of the rally, the team were regularly forced to do more of their driving at night. However, the team’s mechanics were able to do major work to the vehicle on the event rest day, fixing a number of issues and enabling Major O’Hare and Corporal Gillespie to make great progress through the second week.
The Race2Recovery team will now remain in Santiago, Chile, for the official end to the Dakar Rally – a parade followed by a podium celebration that will take place on Sunday 20th January. They will then stay in the city for several days in order to recover from their challenge and also pack their vehicle fleet so that it can be shipped back to the UK. The team is due to arrive in the UK later this week.
the support team and mechanical equipment.
The team operates to the motto ‘Beyond Injury – Achieving The Extraordinary’, and set up its Dakar Rally challenge in order to inspire people who may be injured, ill or facing adversity. Through its racing activity, Race2Recovery has been raising money for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre, one of six Personnel Recovery Centres that have been established as part of the Defence Recovery Capability. The Defence Recovery Capability is an MOD-led initiative in partnership with Help for Heroes and The Royal British Legion to ensure wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women have access to the key resources they need as they recover.
The Race2Recovery team aims to continue its charitable fundraising way past the end of this year’s Dakar Rally. The official book, ‘Race2Recovery: Beyond Injury, Achieving the Extraordinary’, will be published by Haynes and FireStep Publishing in March 2013. £2 from every copy will be donated to Help For Heroes (www.haynes.co.uk/race2recovery).
Donations to the Race2Recovery fundraising campaign for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre can be made at www.race2recovery.com or to donate £5 via mobile text RACE20 £5 to 70070.
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Weather for Ballymena
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 11 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West