Derek Derenalagi: The Soldier that Escaped the ‘Body Bag’ (Inspirational Stories Series)
In July 2007, Private Derek Derenalagi, from the 2nd Battalion of The Mercian Regiment embarked on a tour of duty in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
During a patrol in the early hours of one particular day, Derek and his comrades were given the task to clear a site for a Chinook helicopter to land properly.
Derek sat in the back seat of an army vehicle as the driver and another comrade sat in the front.
The vehicle was driven up to the top of a hill to get a better view of the area. Derek then told the driver to reverse, so that they could prepare for an attack from the enemy.
As the vehicle reversed, it rolled over a 44-gallon drum hidden underground, which was filled with metals, ball bearings and 6 inch nails.
And then in Derek’s words:
“It just blew in seconds, exploded and it tossed myself, the vehicle and everyone.”
Derek’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).
When Derek looked to see what had happened, he saw a stream of blood all over his body.
As Derek choked on his own blood—losing vision and faith to survive—he cried out and said:
“Dear Lord Jesus, if I am willing to use my life to inspire and motivate others, please give me the chance to live.”
A few minutes later, Derek looked up to see a medic from his regiment and asked him:
“Am I going to be okay.” The medic replied, “you’re going to be okay.”
A few hours later, Private Derek Derenalagi was pronounced dead on the operating table at Camp Bastion.
In the Face of Adversity
As the medical staff prepared a body bag for Derek’s lifeless body, a medic detected a faint pulse from his body.
The body bag was dispatched and Derek was flown to the UK for further treatment.
For the next 8 and a half days, Derek remained in an induced coma.
When Derek woke up in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, he saw his wife, Ana, standing by his bedside.
Derek shifted around the hospital bed and asked his wife if he could go to the toilet.
Ana remained speechless. Instead, she held up her phone, took a picture of her husband and showed the image to him, saying: “This is you now, Derek.”
Derek was lost for words.
Both of his legs had been amputated up to his knee area.
Unknown to Derek, after the explosion in Afghanistan, his body was hurled 30 yards upwards into the air and landed on rough edged rocks.
His left leg was blown off completely and his right leg hung by a thread below the knee.
Derek also fractured his clavicle and broke his spine.
After looking at the photo, Derek came face to face with his new reality of life without legs. Like a true warrior, Derek turned his head towards his wife awaiting his reaction and said:
“If this is what has become of me, let’s not complain. Let’s thank Jesus Christ that I’m alive today. Let’s start again.”
Life After Death
After the devastating loss of both of his legs—when most people would have given up on life in self pity—Derek chose otherwise.
Just 3 weeks after regaining his consciousness, Derek enrolled in injury recovery and fitness programmes. He had to learn how to walk again and use his body weight to move around appropriately.
Before his amputation, Derek was an avid rugby player and a fitness enthusiast. After losing his legs, Derek jumped at any chance of getting active again.
He got involved in a sports ‘Battle Back’ programme, where he participated in track and field athletics.
Derek went on to break two British records in the shot put event and at the 2012 IPC Athletics European Championships, Derek won the gold medal in the F57/58 discus event after his winning throw of 41.41 metres (135.9 ft).
Following these top performances, Derek represented Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, competing in the men’s F57–58 discus event.
Derek was later asked during an interview with the Ministry of Defence, if his injuries had changed him. He replied:
“I’m still the same. I used to be cheerful all the time. It hasn’t changed my outlook even though it changed my physical appearance. I’m still Derek Derenalagi.”
At the time of this interview, he was training for the Paralympics.
I’m still on cloud nine,” Derek said. “I just can’t believe it because five years ago I lost my legs in Afghanistan, so to me it’s like a dream come true. I’m honoured to represent Great Britain. From an athlete’s point of view, to represent your country at the Paralympic Games or Olympics is the pinnacle of any career.”
Give Up or Die Trying
“You never fail until you stop trying.”
— Albert Einstein
Derek’s dream after facing death and losing his legs was to represent Great Britain at the 2012 Paralympic games.
5 years later, after devoting his life to athletics and diligent training, Derek achieved his dream of participating in the Paralympics discus throw event in front of an 80,000 stadium crowd.
His prayers had been answered, but it didn’t come easy without hard work and a positive can-do attitude.
In Derek’s words:
“If you have the right mindset, attitude and support, you can achieve whatever you dream for.”
“People tell me I am inspirational for winning gold and that makes me happy. But it’s when people thank me for serving their country that I feel incredibly proud. I don’t regret losing my legs. It was my decision to fight for my country. I’m still fighting for my country now.”
In the face of adversity, Derek didn’t give up.
Instead, he chose to live a new life after death with a positive attitude, giving the best of his efforts and abilities.
Here are some final thoughts:
What would you have done if you were in the Derek’s shoes? Have you given up on your dreams because of the adversity you’ve faced?
If so, what are the top three things you can do today to develop a positive can-do attitude despite your challenges?
Let’s make this week a great week.
The Inspirational Short Stories Series is a collection of real-life stories of overcoming adversity and bouncing back from failure to achieve success.
The purpose of this series is to help you stay motivated throughout the week, performing at your best in whatever you do.
By reading and learning from the inspiring stories of people who’ve overcome adversity, you’ll be better prepared to keep going—no matter what life throws at you.
1. Report by Lorraine McBride on Derek Derenalagi.
2. Hope for heroes report on Derek Derenalagi’s story.
3. Louise Gannon report on Paralympic Team GB and Derek Derenalagi.
Subscribe to the newsletter
Get thought-provoking ideas on technology, habits, and entrepreneurship.