Days before an operation to amputate his left leg, former solider Jon Hilton ran 5k to raise funds for the Poppy Appeal last year.
With the support of his wife and eldest son, Jon completed his challenge in 33 minutes and has so far raised an incredible £11,113.
Jon joined the Army at 16 straight from school in 1995, hoping to forge a military career for himself.
Serving in the Royal Engineers, Jon saw operational tours of the Balkans, Macedonia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and Northern Ireland.
"I absolutely loved my time in the Army, I had some ups and downs, but I wouldn't change any of it. The guys I've met, the friendships I've created and the experiences I've had, you can't pay for that.
"It was amazing, and as you say, you get the rough with the smooth, we served in some horrible places but also served in some lovely places."
"I’ve played rugby for the British Army and combined services. I had an absolutely amazing experience playing Rugby League, which is a sport I love and I'm so passionate about, and I even got to captain the Army Rugby League academy team.”
But after nearly 15 years of service Jon was forced to leave the Army as he struggled with injuries from service-related wear and tear.
"It was all down to wear and tear, obviously carrying huge heavy rucksacks took its toll on my knees, as did the rugby.
"I injured my shoulder and smashed my collarbone, so I ended up having to have a full reconstruction of my shoulder. I also needed a knee operation which I had when I got out, but it caused a blood clot that resulted in lasting damage.”
Unfortunately for Jon the blood clot that was caused by his knee operation led to years of pain and he made the tough decision to have his left leg amputated.
But before his operation Jon realised there was a possibility he may never run again and decided if he was going to run for the last time ever, he wanted to make it worthwhile and raise money for the Poppy Appeal.
I just thought, I'm going to lose my leg why don't I do my last ever run and make it worthwhile.
"I saw a post on social media from RBL about how they wanted people to support them by doing a Poppy Run because donations for the year wouldn't be anywhere near the normal levels that are usually raised due to the Covid-19 situation.
“And I just thought - I'm going to lose my leg, why don't I do my last ever run and make it worthwhile - and I genuinely couldn't think of a more worthy cause than the Royal British Legion.”
Jon signed up to take part in a 5km My Poppy Run to raise money and set a fundraising target of £250.
Just a few days before his operation, along with his wife Nikki and his eldest son Ryan, Jon ran what could be his last run.
"It was the second lap where I got around and I was in so much pain. I had tears streaming down my face and my leg was in absolute agony.
"My son just kept saying ‘we're not quitting dad, we're not quitting dad’, and I'd already told myself ‘I do not care if my leg falls off, I will finish this run whether I dragged myself or whatever, I will get past that finish line’.
"Without Ryan and Nikki, I don't think I would have got round."
Crossing the finish line
Jon finished his 5km run in an impressive 33 minutes and raised an incredible £11,113 – and can now call himself the top My Poppy Run fundraiser for 2020.
"It was amazing, and I just lent up against the wall and I just sobbed in pain.
"It was such a mix of emotions because you've got the fact that you've actually completed it, you've got the support that's around you, you’ve got the pain and then you've got the reality it was your last ever run realistically, it was just such a wave of emotions."
Just three days later Jon was admitted to hospital for his operation to amputate his left leg.
Thankfully Jon’s operation went well and after seven days in hospital he was sent home to begin his recovery.
"My wound has healed well, I've had no infections, no complications and I'm now able to manage the wound pain and the swelling is virtually gone.
"There will be some swelling the more rehabilitation I do, but as it stands at the moment, I've excelled in the recovery stage. My transfers, my ability to move around, get on and off the bed, onto my wheelchair, my use of crutches things like that, they're absolutely over the moon with how I'm doing with things.
"And obviously the goal is to walk before 2021."
While his initial recovery was progressing well, Jon unfortunately had a fall on his stump just a month later, breaking his leg and damaged blood vessels which meant he had to have another operation.
“I had a revision on 13 December to shorten my stump and began my rehab journey again,” he said.
“I started focusing on strength and conditioning of my stump and…I’ve worked a lot with resistance bands and home weights due to gym closures.”
Jon’s recovery is now progressing amazingly and he is learning to walk again with his prosthetic leg.
“My rehabilitation is going really well and I’m now using my leg daily with either two crutches or a walking stick depending how I feel - I’m now managing a gentle one mile walk a day with my crutches.”
With our support Jon is now looking forward to the future and hopes to complete adaptions to his house that will aid his recovery and maintain his independence.
Help support the Armed Forces community throughout the year and fundraise for the Poppy Appeal.