“If you can control your mind in any situation, you can control everything that comes your way.” David Etale
He was born in one of the biggest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. He came from humble beginnings where playing football barefoot was as normal as breathing. Life in the slums was anything but simple – it was hard graft and life was hard – most of his peers were criminals. As a young boy football was his life and the only thing that kept him straight. His parents were hard-working people who did all they could to put food on the table, a roof over their heads and educate him and his siblings. His father’s job meant they moved a lot, eventually settling in a less poverty-stricken area in Westlands. It was here where he started playing professional football for Waterworks FC, Kangemi United FC, Kenya Commercial Bank FC and a while later was scouted out to play for Tusker FC where he represented Kenya in the Africa Champions League.
As well as play pro football, which by the way wasn’t earning him a decent wage by any stretch of the imagination, David made a living driving matatus (Kenya’s answer to minibuses) and undertaking less than desirable side hustles to make ends meet. At his lowest, career-wise, he stored weapons for local thugs and got paid for his discretion. He was not particularly happy with this side hustle and was always on the lookout for better opportunities. Side hustles like these ruined his relationship with his parents, especially his dad, but as luck would have it this was to change dramatically for all of them.
A Kenyan Police CID, who was David’s mentor talked to him about the dangers of his side hustles and told him about the British Army – they were recruiting. David was intrigued and after serious contemplation decided to apply. That was in 2006. All the requisites the army need was that he had some education, a UK sponsor and physical strength. David had physical strength in plenty and contacted a friend of his in the UK who agreed to sponsor him. This friend was Stella and her mum Jane who agreed to host him for several months until he was able to stand on his own. He is forever grateful to these women who treated him like one of their own.
After settling in the UK, David tried to repair his relationship with his dad and succeeded to some extends. In 2015 though, his dad died, this was a dark period for David as he reminisced the good times and tried to remember things his dad taught him. His death served as a realisation to David about everything his dad had tried to teach him and this added to his positivity and resilience.
His first tour of duty saw him travel to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission for two months. That was when reality hit him like a ton of brick – that he had signed up to a life of uncertainty for another country. Although his parents had been supportive and happy for him to join the British Army, the idea of putting his life on the line brought on feelings of anxiety, fear and trepidation for the whole family. Despite life being uncertain, and fear forever present, he made friends for life in the army.
His second tour saw him deploy to Afghanistan in 2009. This was to be the worst battle of his life, and his whole life changed forever. In the four months, he was there, he saw his friend, trainer and mentor die after his entourage was ambushed. Panic and fear set in as he mourned the loss of his friend and reality of the unknown set in – he was constantly aware he could be next. Faith in God was the only thing that kept David going. He carried his bible with him every day and read verses to encourage and remind him of God’s promises for him. David is a strong believer of ‘everything happens for a reason’, so every day as he put his faith in God and prayed, he was prepared for anything. However, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
One day he was driving an armoured open roof vehicle in the dark. It had been a quiet day despite some ambush by the Taliban who they had to fight until ordered back to base. By the time the order came, it was pitch dark so David donned his night vision goggles to see the way and got on his way. Suddenly… boom…. then pitch blackness.
He woke up in a hospital in Birmingham, UK. His first thought was to search for his weapons, he screamed and fought with the nurses demanding to have his weapons. The nurses had to calmly tell him that he was in a hospital and had been injured. The nurses were used to this kind of behaviours from injured soldiers – they didn’t freak out when he did. It was then David learned that he was lucky to be alive and had suffered severe injuries that would take months, if not years, to heal. He had fractured his vertebrae on his lower lumbar spine and his whole left side hurt like crazy. He was confined to a bed for at least a month. After a month, he was sent home to start rehabilitation in Edinburgh camp base which lasted for a year and a half. However, David was also psychologically fractured and was soon diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Life was difficult because it seemed like the rehabilitation was not working and David was in constant pain on his left side. He was deteriorating day by day even after over 12 surgeries to repair his leg.
In 2016 David had to face another hard decision of his life: he had to decide to live with his severely disabled leg and be confined to a wheelchair, or have it amputated, and he might lead a fairly easier life with a prosthetic leg. He chose the latter. It wasn’t an easy decision to arrive at especially since his PTSD was playing havoc in his life – nightmares and feelings of hopelessness and despair. He felt like a burden onto the world, his colleagues and especially his young family. Denial and helplessness led to two attempted suicides – he imagined the world would be a better place without him. Over and above though, God had other plans for him, plans he couldn’t imagine at the time. Intensive counselling and therapy sessions brought the realisation that although he was missing a leg he could live the rest of his life as an inspiration to others. He began to accept that his was not the worst problem on earth – he’d lost people he loved in that war, but his life had been spared.
This realisation gave birth to a phenomenal idea and his whole mindset shifted to doing good with the rest of him. It’s still a journey because sometimes he suffers from phantom pain – this is a trick the brain plays on a person to make them feel like the amputated body part is still present and experiencing pain. The first time I heard about this ‘phantom limb’ was in university and I never thought I would ever know and talk to a real person who’d experienced it.
David is in the process of starting a foundation – this will be to help the less fortunate in similar circumstances. He’s lucky he is in the UK and can afford and have accessible physical therapy, counselling therapy, equipment and the best doctors in the world. However, there are disabled people in Kenya who don’t have such facilities. His disability has brought out the philanthropist in him that he didn’t even know existed. It’s brought out an inner strength where he visits schools in UK and Kenya as a motivational speaker with a message – anything is possible when the mindset is right. He’s encouraged knowing his message can reach a desperate person and inspire them. The project is in the early stages and the hope is to reach to as many people as possible who can sponsor or donate.
He has accepted his disability and his story will help people develop resilience. He values his disability as a gift as it has changed his perspective on life and humanity. There are still moments when he needs to reach for help and luckily for him the army offers a lifetime of counselling. There are many people who will never get this kind of care, these are people who live in remote areas and the majority are shunned by society and loved ones because of their physical appearances. David’s main goal is to make their lives easier and to help the wider society see them as normal.
“You can’t change what happened yesterday, what happens now will affect what happens tomorrow.” David Etale
David will soon start training for the Paralympics in the discus and shot put. I wish you well David.
For more information please visit his website www.davidetale.co.uk
Watch this space for David Etale Foundation – coming soon.