by Mark Harris
Prince Harry is headed to the U.S. again, but this time his mission is much more serious than his last vacation trip here. The reason for his May 9-15 visit is close to his heart: wounded soldiers.
As well as visiting areas hit by Hurricane Sandy and playing a charity polo match in Connecticut, the Afghanistan war veteran and third in line to the British throne will be visiting Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed National Medical Center. He will also open the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs on May 11. This annual event brings together more than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, including 35 from the UK, to compete in seven Paralympic sports.
The UK team is organized and funded by Help for Heroes, a nonprofit set up to help British fighters wounded since 9/11. Martin Colclough, head of physical recovery at the charity, says: “It is wonderful to see Prince Harry building on his support for our UK Heroes and we look forward to watching our athletes build on the tremendous successes from last year. ”
Visitors to the UK can get involved too, thanks to special Challenge Events that Help for Heroes runs throughout the year. The idea is simple – you sign up for an activity, pay a small fee to join, and commit to raising a minimum amount of sponsorship from family and friends. Anyone can sign up in advance via the Help for Heroes website.
As well as the warm, fuzzy feeling you’ll get from helping a good cause, challenge events are a great way to meet locals, stretch yourself and see a different side of British life – including access to places that are usually off-limits.
Be all you can be
There are dozens of fun events to choose from. A great place to start could be the British 10K London Run in July. This high-profile road race passes Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Big Ben, delivering all the scenic buzz of the London Marathon without the exhaustion and knee pain.
Suckers for punishment can always sign up for the 10 times longer (and 10 times more fun) London 2 Brighton Challenge at the end of May. This free-form event encourages you to walk, jog or even run a beautiful countryside route from the capital to the south coast. There are rest stops every 7 miles with hot meals, physiotherapists and massages. A hearty brunch awaits all who reach the beach.
Long-distance cyclists might prefer the London to Paris bike ride organized by Army of Angels, another charity dedicated to supporting veterans of the British armed forces.
Or bag 10 of the Lake District’s most scenic peaks in the 20-mile hillwalking Cumbrian Challenge, to benefit Walking With the Wounded, a non-profit that retrains servicemen and women for civilian life. (As a Walking With the Wounded patron, Prince Harry recently helped launch the group's most ambitious challenge yet: a South Pole expedition that will include injured soldiers.)
Hope for Heroes Tough Mudder races, held in various locations throughout the summer, are as messy as they sound.
Not every challenge event has to involve mud, sweat and tears. The Soldiers’ Charity gives you the chance to golf on a Championship course, with prizes and a silver trophy for the top players. Or simply enjoy a traditional curry lunch at the historic HMS Heron airfield in Exeter, home to the fascinating Fleet Air Arm museum (Europe’s largest naval aviation museum).
Feeling the buzz
If you want a real adrenaline rush, Help For Heroes even lets you step into the boots of a British soldier for a day. Throughout the summer, it’s offering the chance to skydive from 13,000 feet with active military personnel, hosted by either the British Army Parachute Association or the Royal Air Force’s Red Devil Parachute Display Team. As well as the usual tandem skydives, you can train to jump solo. Either way, you’ll get a dizzying 45 seconds of freefall and a vacation treat you’ll never forget.
For the ultimate in excitement, don’t miss Mission 424 in September. This weekend adventure recruits you for an action-filled counter-terrorism operation.
Designed by British military forces, it promises to push your tactical shrewdness, mental agility, fitness and stamina to the limit in a series of challenges. Starting with a night reconnaissance mission, you’ll be biking, running, navigating and code-breaking against the clock – and even ‘dossing down’ (sleeping) in authentic Army barracks or tents.
Teamwork is everything, and who knows? You might even find yourself rescuing hostages or defusing bombs alongside a certain prince of the realm…
Photos: Tough Mudder endurance challenges in the UK, like this one at Cholmondeley Castle last year, raise funds for Help for Heroes. (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images)
Prince Harry met former soldier and Paralympic athlete Derek Derenalagi at the London 2012 Paralympic Games last summer. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Harry chatted with Duncan Slater (L) and Kate Philip (C) at the launch for the Walking with the Wounded South Pole Allied Expedition. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
You can sign up to jump out of an airplane, with proceeds going to Help for Heroes. (Photo courtesy of Help for Heroes)