Disabled former Royal Marine Commando speaks of zip wire entry into Paralympics opening ceremony


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Some people paid hundreds of pounds to get prime seating at last night's opening ceremony. But Joe Townsend got a bird's eye view of the stadium for free.

The 22-year-old former Royal Marine Commando who lost both his legs in Afghanistan spent today savouring his astonishing entry into the Olympic Stadium in which he flew 300-feet down a zip wire to the floor below.

“I had the best view in the house,” he told The Independent today. “I don't have much of a head for heights but when the moment finally came I was at the top of that zip-wire with a silly great grin on my face. I loved every minute of it.”

Townsend had to make two practice jumps the day before the ceremony to make sure everything went smoothly on the night itself. Each time he would be hoisted up to the top of the red Orbit tower and slide into the stadium below. “It got a little easier each time,” he said.

The former Marine was chosen to carry the Paralympic torch into the stadium because he has shown promise as a potential athlete for Rio 2016. He then handed it to David Clarke, Britain's longest serving current Paralympian who handed it in turn to Margaret Maughan – the winnder of Britain's first Paralympic gold.

Townsend signed up to the Marines at the age of 17. Five months into his tour of Afghanistan he lost one leg completely and the other up to the knee when he stepped on a landmine. Recovering at the military rehabilitation unit at Hedley Court he excelled at sports and is now a rising star in the triathlon with hopes of making it to Rio.

“The World Championships are in October so we'll have to see how it goes,” he said. “My life is now that or a professional athlete. I get up, train for 2-8 hours six days a week and eat well.”

Sport, he says, has helped him recover from the trauma of losing his legs. “When I got my fitness back I was initially at a loss for what to do. But the triathlon has given me back the drive and focus you need.”