RAF veteran and Invictus athlete Luke Delahunty is this year’s winner of the People’s Choice in the Soldiering On Awards – marking a major milestone in his inspirational life since he was paralysed in a motorbike smash 22 years ago.
Luke has not only gone on to inspire young people facing a similar diagnosis to him but he has also made his mark competing in the Invictus Games and is a talented competitive rower, handcyclist, wheelchair rugby player and scuba diving instructor – but these are only a few of his achievements.
An accident in 1996 cut short his military career, leading to his medical discharge from the Royal Air Force in 1998, after his injuries left him paralysed from the chest down and negotiating a new life in a wheelchair.
However, how he has faced these challenges is nothing short of impressive – going on to became an inspiring public speaker and charity ambassador and developing an equally inspirational role working for the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he helps and encourages others through their own rehabilitation process following spinal cord injuries.
He had seen tours in Germany, Northern Ireland and Cyprus as a gunner with the RAF Regiment, but his accident happened eight years into his career when he was aged 24.
He told Forces Network earlier this year how big a part sport has played in his determination to rebuild his life.
Luke, speaking back then, said:
"Sport was very heavily involved in my rehabilitation. As an RAF Regiment gunner I was very fit and active.
"Fitness and strength helps in everyday life. It's helped give me a goal, mentally and physically."
He told Forces Network that sport helped him let go of his anger and turned his emotions into a force for good.
He went on to achieve selection to the UK Team for the Invictus Games, not once but twice.
He said: "I had no idea when I started [hand] cycling that I'd end up competing in the Invictus Games.
"There were a lot of things I didn't think I would do after my injury but you never know what life has in store."
However it is Luke's work with young people facing the same diagnosis which stands him out as an inspiration to others.
He became a mentor for people at the National Spinal Injuries Centre, seeking out those who were overwhelmed by the unexpected turn their lives had taken.
As well as taking up disability sports as part of his own rehabilitation, Luke has also cycled to Paris and been on scuba diving and skiing trips.
He also visits schools and gives talks to young people demonstrating how to overcome adversity and achieve their goals, including teaching them what it means to be a wheelchair user and the opportunities available.
The People's Choice Award, sponsored by Forces Network, was selected by public vote before tonight’s ceremony.