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Toby Gutteridge

Former Special Forces soldier, Keynote Speaker, and Author who was paralysed after being shot in the neck in Afghanistan reveals how he got his GCSEs after his injury - and now runs his own business after graduating with a First from university.

Toby Gutteridge had a difficult and destructive childhood before leaving South Africa at the age of 19 to join the Royal Marines, with whom he completed a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan as part of 40 Commando. He was accepted into the Special Boat Service after becoming one of the youngest ever candidates to pass the elite selection process.

He returned to Afghanistan, leading hostage rescues behind enemy lines, and was mentioned in despatches in recognition of his gallantry. In November 2009, two weeks after being wounded in a full frontal assault on a Taliban stronghold, while heavily outnumbered, he was shot through the neck, surviving despite not breathing for at least 20 minutes.

Induced into a coma in Afghanistan, and transported to the UK, doctors recommended that his life support machine be switched off, but with the defiance that defined his recovery, Toby overcame overwhelming odds. Quadriplegic, capable of movement only with his head, he has conquered profound physical and mental challenges to rebuild his life.

At his lowest ebb, in a psychiatric unit in Southampton following neglect by a series of inadequate care teams, he determined to return to formal education on his release. He earned a first class honours degree in business studies at Bournemouth University, and now runs his company Bravery, an extreme sports brand that supports children in poverty.

Toby’s story is an extraordinary evocation of the power of the human spirit. He is brutally honest about the turmoil that led him successfully to seek legal sanction to commit assisted suicide. His case has been used to create legislation, promoting the cause of veterans’ welfare. 

Toby’s life story provides a compelling portrait of the type of person produced by the Special Forces system. It does not shy away from harsh questions, in exploring what extreme experiences teach us about the human condition. Its authenticity, as an account of life triumphing over death, is inspirational.

This is not the usual breathless account of battle, though the sacrifice of comrades is highlighted. It aims to support and empower those who have endured life-changing setbacks. Toby’s example, in summoning courage, strength and resilience to deal with constant pain and recurring depression, is memorable, and more valuable than ever.

His message is vivid and convincing:  “Keep close to those who are close to you. They don’t see the injury. They are with you, regardless. That is special and powerful. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Take moral courage. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Listen to what your heart is telling you. If you follow your heart you will not go far wrong.”

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