‘I've trained with Prince Harry, lost my legs in Helmand – now I'm on course to be a bobsleigh world champion'

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‘I've trained with Prince Harry, lost my legs in Helmand – now I’m on course to be a bobsleigh world champion’
© Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph Corie Mapp – Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph

When Corie Mapp woke up in a hospital bed, two weeks after driving over a homemade bomb in Afghanistan, he couldn’t work out why he was still wearing his heavy military boots.

The last thing the soldier remembered was asking his crew commander if he should “close down” the hatch of their Scimitar armoured vehicle as they scoured the perilous terrain in Helmand Province.

“That’s the last memory I have, and then I woke up in Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham,” recalls the Household Cavalryman, who trained with Prince Harry.

Unbeknown to the then 31-year-old Trooper, their light tank had driven over an IED (improvised explosive device) which had blown him completely out of his seat and 20 feet away from the wrecked vehicle.

“I remember lying there thinking: my boots are really tight. So, I asked the nurse: “Excuse me, ma’am. Can you please take my boots off?”

At this point, his wife Marketha and his youngest sister, Jackie, entered the ward, prompting the Barbadian Household Cavalryman to wonder: “What on earth the Army was thinking, bringing them to this s— hole?”

Then a consultant appeared and said: “I’ve got some news for you Corie – you’re not in Afghanistan, you’ve been injured and unfortunately you’ve lost both your legs below the knee.”

Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph to mark the imminent publication of his compelling autobiography, Black Ice, the 42-year-old father of three, whose motto is: “Don’t exist, live!” is in characteristically thoughtful form.

Described in the book’s foreword by former Life Guard Sir Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association, as “remarkable”, Mapp’s extraordinary story of triumph over adversity doesn’t start or end in the dusty Taliban-held foothills of Musa Qala.

‘I've trained with Prince Harry, lost my legs in Helmand – now I’m on course to be a bobsleigh world champion’
© Provided by The Telegraph Corie Mapp playing volleyball with a group of British and American veterans in 2014 – Jon Shapley for The Telegraph

For despite suffering such catastrophic injuries on January 31, 2010, it was just two months before he was back with his regiment in Windsor, on his new prosthetic legs, before being promoted to Lance Corporal.

Four years later, he was reunited with his former second-in-command Harry for the Invictus Games, when he competed in the sitting volleyball. But it was on the bobsleigh circuit that he earned his nickname ‘Black Ice’ after winning gold at the inaugural World Cup competition in St Moritz after just one year of training. In 2018, he became World Cup champion, triumphing in the European Championships a year later. Soon he will compete to become champion of the world, while at the same time training to rise up the ranks with the Wiltshire Police.

So just how on earth has he been able to do it? It soon becomes apparent, as we speak over Zoom with his co-author Christopher Joll, that Mapp is one of those people who simply makes things happen, in the spirit of life seeming to be too short. The pair wrote the book in lockdown, completing it before they’d even had the chance to meet in person.

“If this book convinces just one black Barbadian kid with no qualifications to follow their dream, no matter the obstacles, then I will have succeeded,” Mapp declares as he explains how joining the Barbados Cadet Corp as a troublesome 11-year-old proved to be his “salvation”.

Having visited Britain in 1985 and been inspired by the Foot Guards at Buckingham Palace, he left school and served successively with the Barbados Defence Force Reserves and the Royal Barbados Police Force before leaving Barbados in 2005 to join The Life Guards (the senior regiment of the Household Cavalry). “It was quite a shock to the system,” he recalls. “You’re coming from 32 degrees to minus nine at Pirbright Common.” Having been warned he was joining “the most racist regiment in the British army,” he was also worried about how he would be received – but is keen to stress: “I never experienced any form of racial bias at all. I’ve been racially abused in England, but not in the British Army. Any time I got a b———, it was because I messed up.”

Despite “joining to drive tanks”, the young rookie was immediately put on ceremonial duties – and taught to ride a horse for the first time. Crying with pride the first time he took part in a full ceremonial escort for the state visit of the President of Ghana, within two years he became the first Barbadian to ride in Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s Birthday Parade. “I felt overwhelmed because I thought this little boy from St John in the middle of the Caribbean was here in front of the Queen.”

Describing what it means to serve “Queen and country”, he adds: “When I think of her I think of someone who’s gone through the Blitz and all these different things and through it all, she’s been resolute and just a pillar of strength. She’s remained a servant of the people.”

‘I've trained with Prince Harry, lost my legs in Helmand – now I’m on course to be a bobsleigh world champion’
© Provided by The Telegraph Mapp wins the para bobsleigh World Cup in St Moritz in 2018 – Alamy

Before long, he would find himself training alongside her grandson. Having first encountered ‘Cornet Harry Wales’ at riding school, Mapp travelled to Canada for combat training at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) only to discover that the by then Captain Wales had been appointed second-in-command of ‘A’ Squadron and would be joining the troopers for their second exercise. 

“The conversations were always on an ‘alright mate, how are you doing?’ sort of level,” he recalls. “He didn’t want to be called Your Royal Highness or anything like that, it was just Sir. I remember going through a difficult patch with my squadron leader and I asked his advice on how I could be a better driver. He said: ‘You’re driving for one of the best squadron leaders in the regiment and he’s going to be hard on you. You’re doing well, just try and keep your head down and you’ll be fine.’”

Praising the Royal as “an excellent crew commander”, he responds to a question about “Megxit” with the sort of loyalty and understanding you would expect from someone, who like Harry, has faced the debilitating heat and brutal insurgency of Afghanistan.

“I don’t think he owes anybody anything. He has done more for this country than a lot of people who are quick to give their opinions. I will always respect him. I will always hold him in high regard – not just him but his brother as well. Because they’ve both seen their fair share of adversity in life, as well as on the battlefield. I don’t think we’re in any position to judge what they’re going through. I would choose my family all day, every day of the week. I wish more people would respect that.”

Mapp also has Harry to thank for inadvertently escalating his elite sporting career. After going through extensive rehabilitation at Hedley Court, he resolved to start playing sitting volleyball, competing at the Invictus Games in 2014, which he describes as “such a healing time” for him and his fellow competitors – all wounded service personnel. “Sport was the crutch I used to support me through this and it’s given me a fantastic object to focus on, something to get up for, something to live for. At the end of the physical journey, the mental part comes into play and sport is a wonderful distraction.”

When the idea of him switching to bobsleigh first came up, Mapp was naturally reticent. “I said: “I’m already broken enough already,” he jokes. “It took a year but in the end I said, why not!”

He travelled to Calgary and was immediately given his first terrifying run down the track, which he describes as “survival”.

“It was a rush,” he chuckles, admitting that his near death experience has made him more “fearless” than before. “I don’t really have a fear of anything any more. I fear dying or my kids being in a bad position. But that’s about it.” Having won a string of trophies, this November Mapp will compete to recover the World Cup, retain the European Championship and secure for the first time the World Championship with the ongoing financial support of the Household Cavalry Foundation, Blesma, and the Royal British Legion. Meanwhile, the Swindon-based police community support officer is hoping to become a regular policeman next year. “If God has it in the works for me to become a sergeant or an inspector I will take that as well but I’m just trying to remain humble, to move forward and first and foremost be a good dad.”

If losing his legs has taught Mapp anything then it is that family always comes first. Fiercely protective of his wife’s privacy and that of his daughters Erin, 18, Jodie, 16, and Alexa, 12, he refuses for them to be photographed for this piece but leaves me in no doubt of the pivotal role the four women – along with his mother in Barbados and sisters Jackie and Sissy played in his recovery.

“My family means absolutely everything,” he says. “We’ve gone through an extraordinarily difficult 10 years. A lot has happened, which I can’t really go into. But I’ve learned to value the little things.”

Describing how, only that morning, he had been cooking pancakes for Erin, who is off to Oxford Brookes University, he adds: “Sometimes I’m driving along and I’m just looking at the Cotswolds and I’m so grateful to be able to see that sight. My mum survived cancer while I was injured. To look at her now at 83 years old and to see the absolute joy on her face because I survived that, you know, it’s things like that that make life worth living for me.”

Black Ice by Corie Mapp (Nine Elm Books, £15) is out now. Order your copy for £12.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk, or call 0844 871 1514 

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