JACO van Gass wished he was dead after he lost his left arm in a firefight in Afghanistan.

Hit by a rocket propelled grenade, which also caused internal organ damage, blast wounds and broken bones, the private in the British Army's Parachute Regiment thought his life was over in his early 20s.

Now 35, and a string of outstanding achievements later, Jaco is a champion cyclist with an MBE for services to the sport.

Speaking to The Messenger, he said medals and an appearance in the New Year Honours seemed an impossibility at the time of his injuries.

Jaco, who born in South Africa but now lives in Sale, said: "I was in a hospital bed and I was depressed. I was wondering why it had happened to me and why I had survived. Honestly, I wished I was dead.

"I didn't know what life looked like with my arm missing and a big chunk of my leg missing. I couldn't walk, let alone ride a bike. Not in the slightest did I think something like this was even on the cards."

Jaco's journey into cycling after his injuries was not a conventional one.

Before starting out in the sport, he was a competitive skier and a marathon runner. He also walked to the North Pole with a team of other wounded servicemen, plus Prince Harry, and even attempted Everest.

It was his experience of the London Paralympics which set his career on its current course.

He said: "I was sitting in the stands in the athletics stadium and the velodrome and I was blown away by the athletes and by the atmosphere.

"The seed was planted and I wanted to become a Paralympian," he added.

Jaco suffered a setback when he was not selected for the Rio Paralympics, but three golds at the Paracycling Track World Championships in early 2020 left the selectors with little choice at the Tokyo Paralympics.

He rewarded them with two more golds, and a bronze for good measure.

The MBE followed, and although Jaco's sights are set on the Paris Paralympics already, he is allowing himself to be proud of his achievements.

He said: "I'm extremely honoured. It's a lovely sentiment.

"I've worked hard, and it's recognition of all the sacrifices, and the time and effort I've put in."