He may not see himself as a hero but Jay is something special

Jay Baldwin SUS-150203-104018001
Jay Baldwin SUS-150203-104018001

It’s not a label with which the unassuming family man has ever been comfortable – but he’s about to earn it all over again.

In September, the 29-year-old will hand cycle 3,000 miles from the east to west coast of the USA.

Jay, of Southgate, lost both legs just above the knees after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while on duty with the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (PWRR) on January 31 2012.

After returning to Crawley he suffered chronic pain as he struggled to walk on a variety of prosthetics – though he refused to let it stop him from taking part in the Remembrance Day parade along the High Street that November.

He has just returned from Australia where he underwent surgery to insert titanium-based implants directly into his thigh bones.

The implants will allow him to attach prosthetics without having to endure the pain associated with standard prosthetics.

The surgery has left Jay looking forward to something the rest of us take for granted.

He said: “I can wear jeans now! Everyone who knows me knows me to wear shorts all the time. I’ve not got many proper trousers – it’s all tracksuit bottoms.”

As for the surgery, which has changed the lives of 300 people, he is passionate it should be taken on by the NHS.

He said: “Having been the third person from the military to have this done, I want to try to do as best as I can to help other people who have been blown up or injured.

“The only surgeon who is looking to be trained to do this in the UK is a soldier. I like to think this surgery could come on the NHS. There are others in Crawley who have no legs who will need it.”

That determination to help others is something which will continue to put Jay in the spotlight. For someone who only used to court attention when charging around the football pitch for Sporting Crawley or taking wickets for Ifield, he has had to come to terms with everyone in town knowing his name.

He said: “When I first came back from Afghanistan after being injured there was a lot of coverage. It was very difficult. Not that I couldn’t cope with it, I just didn’t know how to deal with it.

“I’d never been the centre of attention. People were suddenly interested in what I did.

“I got pulled over by the police for a routine thing. He asked me to step out of the car and I said ‘I can’t, I’ve got no legs’. He said I was a local celebrity.”

The attention is unlikely to die down as Jay trains for his epic trek across the States.

He will be joined by his boss, Chris Johnson, of Camberley based Convergent Risk Group, as well as Brian Wood, of the PWRR.

There are even hopes Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for twice saving members of the PWRR from ambushes, will be involved.

The team plans to complete the cycle in two weeks and Jay has been training hard to get himself in shape, losing 16 kilos in weight.

Any money they raise will go to the PWRR regimental charity, which paid for Jay to travel to Australia for his surgery.

He said: “Any left will go to put legs on limbs or pay for medication or pay to put people in homes. Anyone from the PWRR who needs help – it will go to them.”

It’s been three years since Jay’s life was changed by a bomb and he has earned the admiration of the town for how he has dealt with things.

He lives in Southgate with partner Emmi, 29, and their children Lottie, 4, and Ollie, 2.

Jay said: “I’ve still got a long, long way to go. I know there’s a lot more to learn and a lot more bumpier roads I’m going to go down but I’ll get there. I’m determined. I want to make it happen.

“I always knew from the moment I was blown up that I would never be able to play football again and would never be able to do anything as well again.

“It is what you make of it at the end of the day. I could sit in my wheelchair all day and feel sorry for myself but I’ve got my life to enjoy, I’ve got my family to enjoy.

“I’m alive.”