Page last updated at 08:31 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Paraplegic soldier rows Channel

Major Phil Packer (left) and Alastair Humphreys
Major Phil Packer and Alastair Humphreys are not regular rowers

A soldier injured in Iraq has set off on his bid to row across the English Channel.

Major Phil Packer, a 36-year-old paraplegic, is raising money for the Help for Heroes charity.

He left Folkestone at midnight on Friday with adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

Maj Packer, who lives in Westminster, London, said: "I've had a second chance at life and now want to support other people with disabilities."

Maj Packer, who served with the Royal Military Police, was injured on 19 February last year in Basra. He was hit by a vehicle and dragged underneath it during an incident that followed a rocket attack.

He suffered a bruised heart and damage to his ribs and chest and became a complete paraplegic, losing the motor and sensory use of his legs. As a result of his injuries he was told he would never walk again.

However, almost a year later, Maj Packer has regained some feeling in his legs and is determined to walk once more.

We're both going to battle on through till we get to the other side
Maj Phil Packer, fundraiser

He remains a serving army officer and has also set himself the challenge of raising 1m for the Help for Heroes charity, which helps those who have been wounded in Britain's current conflicts.

Maj Packer said: "I wanted to do my bit. When I was in hospital I needed something to get me through. When I learned about Help for Heroes I decided that I wanted to raise 1m for them.

"There's a triple edge to what I've been doing. I want to raise money and I want to provide the opportunity for injured servicemen to learn about sports that they might not have considered before they were injured.

"I also want to enthuse people to keep providing me with challenges, through which I can keep raising money."

Maj Packer is aiming to do so by completing a series of different challenges, and has already taken part in a skydive with the Red Devils.

Training difficulties

So far his appeal, run through his website, has raised 155,000, with a further 35,000 due to be added from an event organised last Christmas.

"This amount of rowing will be a challenge both physically and mentally. It's dangerous to be over-confident and neither Alastair or myself want to get out that boat before we've reached France.

"We're both going to battle on through till we get to the other side.

"It's very, very cold here but the seas and tides are on our side," he added on Friday night.

After rowing the channel, he plans to complete the London Marathon in two weeks on crutches, and also climb El Capitan, a 3,000ft rock formation in the United States.

Major Phil Packer
Major Packer is raising money for injured soldiers
Maj Packer, who has also served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, is hoping to return to work later in the year.

His rowing companion Mr Humphreys, 32, from Clapham, London, previously spent four years cycling round the world, has written two books and run the Marathon des Sables, a six-day endurance race across the Sahara desert.

The pair only began training together for their rowing challenge at the start of this month.

Mr Humphreys said: "I didn't really know Phil but I came across his website and I was really impressed with his attitude and positivity.

"I'm really looking forward to the trip. We've had some difficulties, in that there was a hole in the boat and I snapped an oar in training.

"I'm also pleased to be a part of Phil's rehabilitation, and to be helping him get close to his fundraising target, because that money will do some real good for people.

"But from a selfish point of view I'll enjoy the feeling of being out in the sea in the middle of the night and then getting out of the boat in France, having rowed across."

The rowers' aim to reach Calais by midnight on Saturday.

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