There’s motivation and there’s motivation. But in the case of ex-soldier Chris Moon, MBE, there is a level of motivation to the nth degree. When you first speak to Chris you can hear, and almost see, the drive that has helped this man overcome almost insurmountable obstacles.
Chris, 47, has survived against all the odds – including abduction by Khmer Rouge guerrillas and being blown up while walking in a cleared area of a Mozambique minefield, losing his lower right arm and leg. Less than a year later, he ran his first marathon and has also completed the world’s toughest ultra-marathons. In addition, he has written his biography One Step Beyond and a second book, which is about motivation, will be published next spring.
Chris has also been a speaker for more than ten years on mindset, motivation and leadership. He is married with three young children.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
I grew up in a little village near Salisbury and was taught about farming. I went to an agricultural college (now the Plymouth University faculty of Agriculture and Food Technology) but I wanted to do something more connected with people so I worked as a volunteer at a centre for homeless young people. It was an amazing experience. I then joined the army and went to Sandhurst.
Working as a volunteer, was the idea of service and motivation part of your character even then?
I think for me there might be some truth in that. I have been talking about the process of achievement for more than ten years and how you achieve things. You need to be someone who makes things happen. We all have choices. You have more choices than you realise. If you can do something to add value to something else, it adds meaning and value to your own existence. I am naturally positive and work on being positive. The price of negativity is too high to pay.
Why did you want to join the army?
I wanted to do something worthwhile and to make a contribution. My father and grandfather were both soldiers for a while. I served in the army for three years and used my military skills clearing landmines. You were always fit and healthy, what did you do to keep fit before your accident? I just did a bit of running. I am not a worldclass athlete. Being fit kept me alive. I did gym work, cycling and hill walking.
Tell us about your experiences as a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?
I worked for a charity (the Hazardous Area Life-Support Organisation Trust) in Cambodia. I survived the Khmer Rouge in 1993. It was a challenging experience and I made a documentary on Discovery Alive and met the commander who was supposed to rubber-stamp my execution. There were at least eight or nine men captured after me and they were executed. It was my second day in Cambodia and the UN were running the country. We were told it was quite safe to work in the village but something changed. The Khmer Rouge moved their forces very quickly without any notice and we were basically held up. I was believed to be a foreign military advisor. I was a prisoner for only three days but it was the longest three days of my life.
My release was a combination of things, including meeting the commander. He was not the commander who executed the others. It was also about taking personal responsibility, choosing the right things and having a strategy. I told myself: ‘I won’t be a victim and must not behave like a victim.’ It’s a nogoer. It can be complex working with people. The documentary team went out to Cambodia and I met the commander again. We had a long conversation. I hadn’t realised just how dire our situation had been.
Do you use those same negotiating skills which helped secure your release today?
I think I have learnt such a lot from that. With challenging or tough experiences you mustn’t focus on the past. It is important to be the way we are 100 per cent and focus on then here and now. First you have to focus; secondly you have to learn the importance of thinking and understanding about your environment. Third and fourth are the importance of listening and the importance of not being affected by negativity.
What difference did the amputations of your right hand and leg make to your life in terms of motivation?
I was right-handed and when the first feelings came around I remembered the whole thing. I can remember the noise of the explosion ringing in my ears and then I looked … I remember thinking how my right handn was very badly damaged and shouting to back-up to call in a helicopter if they could. I can remember very clearly everything that subsequently happened. I ended up in Mozambique. I thought this might be it and thought about the opportunities I should have taken and all those things. I was aware of the fact that you need to make the best of it when I felt like drifting off. The power of life is one of the most extraordinary things. I knew about running a marathon and long-distance running and there are other things you can learn such as running a one arm and one leg ultra-marathon.
How did it affect your family and friends?
I was not married then. My children have only ever known me as not being nearly as well-equipped in the limbs department and so it is not a big deal. They are not bothered.
How successful have you been in terms of pushing the boundaries of prosthetics further?
Fourteen years ago there were no amputees running long-distance. Now I am running a little bit quicker because technology has improved so much. I have done a lot with various charities where I focus on my speaking and training. I am doing a programme for a phone company about how they can achieve more with the time they have got and to focus on goal-setting and to push for the process of achievement.
What is the blueprint for being successful? What are the procedures?
It is not simple. It depends on the challenges people have to face and what they want to achieve. There is no one answer.
What is next?
Every year I do the Death Valley run (the world’s toughest foot race) and next year I will compete again and aim to achieve an elite finish time.
What motivates you?
Life is about being upbeat. You have to recognise that life is a precious gift for all of us and you have got to make the most of it. I have never done anything I am proud of when I’m angry or negative.
What about today’s society and the unmotivated and negative people who seem to be part of that society?
I meet some extremely inspirational and motivated people and I don’t think it’s all negative. There are some people who need a little bit of a boost to their confidence to understand what they can do. Many young people don’t realise they have a choice. I wouldn’t criticise the youth of today.
What example would you set youngsters today in terms of motivation?
We are responsible for ourselves rather than the government looking after us. We need to realign ourselves and refocus on individual responsibility. I wouldn’t preach to anyone but what works is going that extra mile and helping people to do more than they think they can.
You have seen your life-changing accident as a positive rather than a negative. What can you say to those who cannot cope with life, let alone achieve as much as you have? A lot of it is about being involved with other people. I suppose my situation was a little bit different. Once I left the hospital, I taught myself how to run and since I was working for charity when I was injured the support was great. I got on with it very quickly. Our most precious resource is time. I encountered quite a lot of negativity such as: ‘You might hurt yourself. ’ But I didn’t want to accept those limits.
As an ex-soldier, how do you feel about the war in Afghanistan?
The soldiers I have spoken to who have served there were keen to serve and to do their job. I have every sympathy with them. People cope in different ways and sometimes they might need a bit of help to cope. Whatever happens to us in life we have to take responsibility for its effect on us and when it is our fault we can
do this by saying: ‘This happened, I have got to deal with it.’
Your new book describes some of the amusing things that have happened to you.
One of the funniest things was when I was running the London marathon. I went past these men and they said: ‘Oh God, a slightly fat bloke with one arm and leg has overtaken us. If you don’t tell anyone, neither will I.’ I get used to comments like that and, as I ran past, told them I was also slightly older.
You are kept busy with numerous engagements for motivational speeches. Who is your favourite audience?
My best audience is a warm and breathing one, that is, alive.
Carole Dwyer has been a journalist for nearly 30 years and has worked as an editor, sub-editor and reporter for newspapers, magazines and radio, both in the UK and the US.
Chris can be engaged for motivational talks though MTB Management Ltd.