Five years ago, after being blown up by a roadside bomb, he was lying apparently dead on an operating table at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and being prepared for a body bag when one of the medical staff noticed a faint pulse.
It was the start of an astonishing journey for the 36-year-old soldier, which he hopes will culminate in a place on the podium as an inspiration to others faced with similarly catastrophic injuries.
“For me, it’s an honour to represent my country both on the front line and now at the Paralympic Games,” he said. “Going into the stadium and performing in front of 80,000 people, I’m just humbled by the route that I’ve taken, not giving up and then taking up Paralympic sport.”
Derenalagi has a vivid memory of the day his life changed forever while serving as a private on his second Afghanistan tour.
“I lost my legs on July 19, 2007 between 6.23 and 6.30 in the morning,” he said. “It was a Thursday morning. I remember it so well because I’d put it down in a note in my diary before I went out in the morning to clear a helicopter landing site.” “One of the guys just grabbed hold of my shoulders and they brought me down the hill. They just dragged me along. They took me by the shoulders and dragged whatever was left because both of my legs were shattered. My left leg was totally gone and my right leg was shattered and flesh and bone was just hanging. I can’t describe the pain. It was horrendous.”
Derenalagi was taken to the operating theatre. It was only when he regained consciousness from an induced coma that he became aware of how close he came to death. “I woke up from a coma nine days later and the doctors came to speak to me and told me that I had been pronounced dead,” he said.
Within a week he was standing up, bearing his entire weight on his stumps. “While I was there, I watched the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics and I just made up my mind to try out some Paralympic sports,” he said.