Veteran, Derek Derenalagi is the face of our new Autumn catalogue - in this edition he shares his powerful story of strength and models key pieces from our range of branded clothing, including our Patriotic and Endurance range.
Click the cover below to view the catalogue in full.
Double amputee Derek was serving in Afghanistan in 2007 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. When he awoke from a coma nine days later, he knew that life for he and his wife, Ana, had changed forever. Together, they have learnt to adapt to and overcome so many challenges.
“I grew up in a Fijian village, hearing stories about heroic Fijians who had joined the British Armed Forces. It is what inspired me to join.
“Although adjusting to UK life wasn’t easy (especially the weather!), I really enjoyed my time in the military and I visited a lot of places.
“It was my second tour of Afghanistan in 2007 that changed everything. The vehicle I was in went over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) hidden in a drum. It ripped our Land Rover apart and it took both of my legs with it.
“When I stood on my bare stumps for the first time, a month later, it was a huge moment for me. To get to that point was all thanks to the medics and the physios and I knew at that point that I would walk again. And that’s where Help for Heroes came in. They got me
involved in sport as part of my rehabilitation, and they even funded the prosthetic legs that took me to the 2012 Paralympics. Competing at the Games was one of the proudest moments of my life.
“Even after 14 years, I still suffer with phantom limb pain. My prosthetic leg sockets can cause blisters on my stumps, and I suffer with lower back pain, as having artificial limbs affects my posture. I still suffer with mental trauma too – I have Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD) and I still experience flashbacks. And sometimes my injury stops me from doing the simplest of things like visiting family and friends – something we loved to do before. Now though, I just can’t sit for long periods of time.
“Life has changed so much, but all the support we’ve had has had such a positive impact and we will be forever thankful for that. It hasn’t just helped me physically, its helped us both mentally too, to adapt and to overcome any challenges that come our way. Help for Heroes and its amazing supporters, alongside all the wonderful support we’ve had from family and friends, have made that happen. They have such a special place in our hearts.”
An Army veteran-turned-artist, from Plymouth, has partnered with Armed Forces charity Help for Heroes to design two new T-shirts and a fundraising Christmas card – and issued a plea to other veterans to step forward to ask for help if they need it.
Kevin Preston served with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards for four years, before leaving the service, and having joined the Coldstream Guards Association a fellow member suggested he should join a Help for Heroes’ art group. It was a life-changing suggestion.
Kevin explained: “I am really grateful to Help for Heroes. I struggled with my injuries and the one thing that was important to me was my art. They gave me the biggest boost I could ask for and nothing was a problem. They took a real interest in me and my art, more than anyone before."
“They brought back my confidence in showing my paintings again. And coping with my pain. I had something to look forward to. There are a lot of people worse off than me, and you get to see how they cope with their injuries, and it inspires you to go forward.”
Art has always played a part in his life, as he recalled: “I’ve always been interested in art, since I was able to pick up a pencil at a very young age. The first portrait I did was of (TV’s) Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin, ‘a man barely alive’ who was rebuilt into a bionic man.”
Kevin continued painting and drawing when he left school and joined the army, but little could he have known a hobby would later become a successful therapy.
He added: “In Northern Ireland I would get photos given to me by the lads and draw them so they could send them home to their families. This led to a job in the Assault Pioneer Platoon. Once back in England I worked in the pioneer shop as the battalion sign-writer until I left the Army.”
It was during a tour in Northern Ireland, in 1982, that he injured his back to the extent that he required four spinal operations – what’s more, he also suffered a stroke. Like all Armed Forces personnel, he was stoical about his situation, but he can now admit that approach meant he struggled after leaving the service.
He admitted: “I never complained much, you just had to get on with it. This led to all sorts of problems, for which I ended up needing a lot of help, because at the time I was too proud to ask for it.”
Kevin has already sold three paintings in aid of Help for Heroes, created artwork for Help for Heroes’ gig boats and taken part in the Help for Heroes Creative Force Exhibition in London. Closer to home, he enjoys being part of a local exhibition at the Royal William Yard, in Plymouth.
With his wealth of creativity Kevin has helped create artwork for two new Help for Heroes T-Shirt designs, one with the oft-used phrase ‘Chuffed to NAAFI Breaks’. The design includes a detailed illustration of a World War II NAAFI van. The second design features a group of servicemen and women painted in Kevin’s unique style, titled ‘Forward Together’.
And, in the autumn, a further design will also be available to purchase in the form of an illustrated Christmas card, named ‘You’re on Mute’.