Eastbourne Paralympian to receive honorary degree from University of Brighton

A Paralympian, who is based in Eastbourne, is set to receive a honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Brighton.

The university said since losing both his legs while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan in 2008, Joe Townsend has made a major contribution to sport and sport science at the highest level, as well as being a ‘hugely inspiring’ role model of resilience.

Mr Townsend will receive the honorary degree on Wednesday, July 27.

A spokesperson from the university said: “Since the devastating trauma he experienced as a serving soldier, Townsend has become a hugely successful international Paratriathlete at both World and European Championships racing in the PTWC (ParaTri Wheelchair) classification.

Joe Townsend. Picture from the University of Brighton

"In 2018, he won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, and also won multiple gold medals in the Invictus Games in 2014.

"He was the first – and still to this day the only – wheelchair athlete to complete the gruelling Ironman UK challenge.

"He also competed at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.”

Now based in Eastbourne, Mr Townsend works closely with sports science researchers at the University of Brighton.

Joe Townsend. Picture from the University of Brighton

As well as helping test human endurance in both extreme heat and altitude, Mr Townsend also works with the university's engineering department to improve race wheelchair technology.

The spokesperson added: “As a motivational and inspirational speaker Joe carries out regular talks to industry, schools, and major national and international companies.”

Mr Townsend said: "Life isn’t always easy, and I do not believe people are born special or exceptional - every individual is going to face their own personal battles. And what may seem insignificant to one person, may be all consuming to another. This is called adversity, and I believe adversity to be one of life’s most fruitful educators.

"19-years-old, lying on the floor of a war zone. Propped up by my rucksack, I look down, my right leg has gone, just completely gone, replaced by a mangled stump, with shredded combat trousers and blood pouring out. I look at my left leg, which is somehow bent up behind me, although no boot containing a foot in sight.

"To this day I’m unsure on my mindset in that moment, I’m not sure if it was through sheer panic, confusion from the blood loss, or just a lack of other conceivable ideas on how to deal with this situation, but I cracked a joke, stayed composed and started trying to tourniquet my legs to stop the bleeding.

"People always say: ‘Your strength of mind is incredible, I don’t know how you do it, you’re a hero’. I don’t see it that way. Frankly I’m selfish, I have always quite enjoyed life and had no desire to exit this existence at that time. Granted I thought about my family as I was lying there, and the pain and upset that this situation would cause them.

"I had this confidence that, if I can overcome this, I can do anything.

"Of course life has obstacles, things you don’t want to do but are a necessity to achieve the end goal. The mindset that gets on, challenges the adverse situation, puts in the hard graft and refuses to bow down to the situation is what makes you a winner.”