Eastbourne Paralympian to receive honorary degree from University of Brighton


The university said that since losing both of his legs while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan in 2008, Joe Townsend has made major contributions to sport and sports science at the highest level, while being an “extremely inspiring” model of resilience.

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

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A university spokesperson said: “Since the devastating trauma he suffered as a serving soldier, Townsend has become an extremely successful international paratriathlete at World and European Championships in the PTWC classification (ParaTri Wheel chair).

Joe Townsend. Photo by the University of Brighton

“In 2018 he won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and also won several gold medals at the Invictus Games in 2014.

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

“He also participated in the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016.”

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

Joe Townsend. Photo by the University of Brighton

In addition to helping test human endurance in extreme heat and altitude, Townsend also works with the university’s engineering department to improve racing wheelchair technology.

The spokesperson added: “As a motivational and inspirational speaker, Joe regularly hosts talks with industry, schools and major national and international corporations.”

Mr Townsend said: “Life isn’t always easy, and I don’t believe people are born special or exceptional – each individual will face their own personal battles. And what may seem insignificant to one person, can be consuming for another It’s called adversity, and I believe that adversity is one of life’s most fruitful educators.

“19 years old, lying on the floor of a war zone. Propped up by my backpack, I look down, my right leg is gone, just completely gone, replaced by a mutilated stump, with shredded combat pants and blood dripping I look down at my left leg, which is somehow tucked behind me, though no boot containing a foot in sight.

“To this day, I’m not sure of my state of mind at the time, I don’t know if it was out of sheer panic, confusion from the blood loss, or just… lack of other conceivable ideas on how to handle this situation, but I made a joke, stayed calm and started trying to tie up my legs to stop the bleeding.

“People always say, ‘Your spirit is amazing, I don’t know how you do it, you’re a hero’. I don’t see it that way. Honestly I’m selfish, I’ve always enjoyed life I had no desire to leave this existence at the time. Certainly, I thought of my family as I lay there, and the pain and upheaval 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 along, challenges the adverse situation, puts the graft hard and refuse to bend to the situation is what makes you a winner.

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