From Afghanistan to Xcel – meet the Royal Marine who is now a personal trainer at the CV Life venue

“We were doing patrols out of a police station in Afghanistan, being overrun by the Taliban. I was on a resupply run back to camp, but there was only one route in, one route out.

“This made us highly vulnerable to enemy attack. So we were going fast over rough terrain, making ourselves a harder target.

“I was top cover, the gunner wedged out the top of a Land Rover. We hit a ditch and jolted down, but as the vehicle pivoted back up, the rim I was wedged out of slammed into me, giving me whiplash of my lower back. The incident damaged my vertebrae, gave me a prolapsed disc and left me in agony.”

This was the beginning of the end of Earl James’ dream career in the Royal Marines.

Earl is a personal trainer based out of CV Life’s Xcel Leisure Centre. He is in his early to mid forties, but could pass for ten years younger – a lifetime of exercise and sport has evidently kept him youthful.

But these years of being active, from playing football in the parks and fields of Bell Green, to excelling in martial arts and his current role as a PT, is punctuated by an innocuous encounter with a ditch while he was a Royal Marine serving his country in Afghanistan.

This incident forever changed the path his life and career was on.

Earl left school with little in the way of qualifications. His then undiagnosed dyslexia meant teachers didn’t give him much hope or take him seriously. Frustrated by the limitations traditional education was putting on him, he disengaged.

Earl said: “I just didn’t get school, I didn’t understand it. The teachers took that as me not caring or being a troublemaker but that wasn’t true.”

Rather than words and letters, Earl’s mind worked in a mechanical way – he could visualise things and learn via consuming alternative methods.

“Give me a manual, I can’t take it in, but if I can listen to it or watch a video, I learn it dead easy,” he explained.

Earl began working at Peugeot. By his early twenties he had a family and was earning a good wage for a young lad. 

But after six years, he began to find his career unfulfilling. He tried unsuccessfully joining the fire service, before choosing something completely different.

“I was always interested in the military,” Earl said. “I was in the Marine Cadets when I was younger, it really captured my imagination – I watched films like Full Metal Jacket and loved them. So I applied for the Marines.”

But one doesn’t simply ‘apply’ to join the Royal Marines like you would any other job. The process is built up of numerous stages, pushing candidates to their absolute limit over a prolonged period of time.

Aspiring Marines go through a gruelling physical and emotional process designed to make sure only the best of the best get through.

Earl put everything he had into achieving his dream, and after blood, sweat, tears and a number of injuries he had to overcome, he finally made it to the passing out ceremony.

“I was delighted,” Earl said. “I couldn’t wait to get going, to fight for my country.”

Thanks to his past working in the motor industry, he was able to qualify as a Royal Marine vehicle mechanic to add extra strings to his bow.

He also leaned into his prowess in martial arts, becoming a boxing champion and training others in the sport as well as in jiu jitsu and fitness generally. 

Soon he found himself serving in Afghanistan, right to the heart of a conflict which had already been raging for a number of years.

Earl said: “I loved being out there and seeing action – it was what I’d trained towards for so long. I also loved the camaraderie of being part of a group.

“We all have to stay fit, but I found that when I was in the gym, others would join in and follow my sessions. It was a really good period in my life and I felt like I belonged.”

But this contentment would soon come crashing down. In Afghanistan he suffered the injury which would change the course of his life.

“I was in a pretty bad way,” Earl shared mildly. “It was horrendous pain – I knew something was wrong, my leg was also weak and I had pins and needles in my toes.

“We got back to the camp and they gave me morphine. I spent a week back at base when they said they needed to fly me back to the UK.

“I was eventually diagnosed. But the problem was my spine wasn’t healing how it should have. The prolapse disc was staying where it was touching on the sciatic nerves – it was agony.

“I went from being a superfit marine, boxing champion, fitness was always a big part of my life. Then all of a sudden I could hardly move due to the pain.

“My mental health was in the gutter. It was horrible.”

Explaining the process of being a Marine with a serious injury, Earl said: “From the time you get injured you are given a set time to recover, a year or two years, then they reassess you – you have to go to a medical review board with a load of doctors who decide what they are going to do with you, basically keep you in the Marines or kick you out.

“They gave me two options. ‘We operate on you, fuse the spine’, which would mean they definitely kick you out, or ‘get as fit as you possibly can and stay a Marine’, but because of the injury this wasn’t exactly possible, they would probably kick me out anyway. 

“In the end I had the operation and had my spine fused. It took a year of rehab to get back to fitness.

“I didn’t want to leave – I felt strong and fit, I was running without pain, I was doing everything I could before, but because of the inflexibility of having your spine fused, I had to leave. I was gutted.”

Earl was medically discharged from his dream profession in 2014 after 10 years as a Royal Marine.

Though lost at the idea initially, as it wasn’t an outcome that emerged out of the blue, he had been able to look at it philosophically and make some plans for his post-marine career.

“I had to learn to accept it,” Earl said. “One door closes and another one opens. There were some positives to coming out as a younger man as it meant I had more time to rebuild my life, and that’s what I did.

“Initially I was looking at the careers that would make the most money, working in an office project managing, or something like that, but I decided I was looking at it from the wrong angle.

“I thought ‘if money wasn’t a factor, what would I do?’ “I always liked training people, coaching boxing, I enjoyed being in that environment.  So I chose to do personal training.”

Part of the medical discharging process from the Marines is to help setting up the individual in a future career.

Earl said: “I did all the training and got all the qualifications through the marines. I took all the qualifications that would make me the ‘go to guy’. 

“But there’s so much more to this job than just qualifications. To make a career out of it you have to go the extra mile. 

“People see the passion, it doesn’t matter as a PT if you have big muscles – if people see the energy and passion they buy into you. I’ve been doing it for ten years now and I love it. I love being able to make a difference to people and help them get their lives back on track, it’s great.”

So if you’re on the lookout for a personal trainer, choosing Earl wouldn’t just be about gaining physical strength; but rather about being guided by someone who understands the mental and emotional aspects of the fitness journey. Earl’s story resonates with clients looking for more than a workout routine – they seek a trainer who has faced challenges, overcome adversity, and emerged stronger, ready to impart that resilience to others.

In essence, Earl is not just a personal trainer; he’s a coach, a mentor, and a source of inspiration for those looking to embark on their fitness endeavours. His infectious passion and genuine care make him the kind of personal trainer you don’t just train with – you train alongside, knowing that you have a dedicated ally in achieving your fitness goals.

Find out more about CV Life’s personal trainers here.