From a Red Devil to a dentist - 'anything is possible'

Dave Richards, pictured at the University of Otago, has switched from being a British Army paratrooper to a new career in dentistry. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dave Richards, pictured at the University of Otago, has switched from being a British Army paratrooper to a new career in dentistry. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dave Richards, a former member of the British Army's elite Red Devils parachute display team, will complete a remarkable journey today, gaining a University of Otago dentistry degree after overcoming dyslexia.

''I'm absolutely over the moon,'' Mr Richards (32) said.

He will gain a bachelor of dental surgery degree, with credit, graduating from the university today with more than 280 others, mainly with dentistry and physiotherapy qualifications, in a 4pm ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall.

He said his first priority was to thank the ''university, friends and family'' for their strong support while he had changed his career and while studying at Otago.

He was grateful to the dentistry school for allowing him to study and ''giving me a chance to change my life''.

He grew up in England, joining the army after leaving school at 18.

From 1999, he spent five years in the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, serving as a private in peace-keeping operations in Northern Ireland and later in combat operations linked to the invasion of Iraq.

He was also selected for the Red Devils freefall display team, spending two years travelling the world and completing nearly 800 skydives.

But in 2004, he decided to leave the army and become a dentist, starting a demanding nine-year transition.

''Losing friends in Iraq was a deciding point in my career.''

He returned to secondary school in England to complete his A levels in biology and chemistry, and was later accepted for study at the Otago University School of Dentistry.

''I had always dreamed of coming to New Zealand, as this was somewhere that I had always thought would be a fantastic place to live.''

The transition from soldier to student was ''very, very difficult'' at first, but later he felt more comfortable in his studies.

He hoped his success would show others ''anything is possible'' if people were determined, and persevered ''with guidance, support and help from friends and family'', he said.

He will remain in New Zealand and practise in Rotorua.

Associate Prof Darryl Tong, of the Otago School - who is also a lieutenant-colonel in the New Zealand Army Reserve Force - said Mr Richards had worked hard and performed well in his challenging transition.