Invictus Games 2018

Date: Monday February 18, 2019 at 11:41am

Case Studies:

Nick Martin:

Former Leading Hand Nick Martin served in the Royal Navy until 1986. Having watched the past two Invictus Games, the 62-year-old from Plymouth felt inspired to take part.

“I realised that I want to challenge myself, not as a punishment this time but as a celebration,” said Nick. “The self-abuse that I carried out over the years needed to stop. I am now fully committed to a recovery programme to help me move forward. I’ve allowed my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to control the way that I have seen and led my life over many years. I now see life as a blessing not a burden. I’ve changed things. I try new things. It isn’t easy to get out of the rut but I’m peering over the parapet. I am ready to live a productive, healthy life again!”​

Nick joined the Royal Navy as a Stores Accountant in 1977.  While most of his life at sea was onboard survey ships he saw action in the Falklands Campaign. He explains: “I was on the Atlantic Conveyor when she was hit, which is why my participation with Help for Heroes came about.”

    

He left the services in 1986 and has had a varied career since. For the first ten years he utilised his stores skills, working as a parts manager for a garage in Taunton. After ten years he says he had a complete change of life: “I decided to quit the rat race and I became a nursery school teacher down in Newquay. This is still the hardest job I have ever done. But I loved it.”

Needing more money and security after the birth of his son, he became a teaching assistant. He’s been in this role for the last 20 years and says it’s been very important: “Not only is it fulfilling, the students I work with are such fun. I’ve also made a difference to lives. I’ve stopped people leaving school, I’ve actually stopped young people harming themselves. That I see as my big success in my life.”​

Nick’s PTSD had a huge effect on his day-to-day life. He didn’t want to go out or take part in anything but solitary activities. Since he joined Help for Heroes in 2016 he’s been given support to re-engage with other people and take part in group activities such as the Invictus Games Choir, baking and sporting events. This has led to him gaining the confidence to apply for the 2018 Invictus Games.

He says joining Help for Heroes is helping him to have confidence in his ability to achieve: “It’s opened up a new world to me. Everything I’d done before had been solitary. I’m an artist too, and I’ve always done that alone. My sports have been surfing and long-distance running. I wasn’t a social creature at all. I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything. All of a sudden I was getting emails to be involved with other people doing things.” ​

Nick competed in cycling at the Invictus Games which has given him another new purpose in life. Regular training and then competing in Sydney have helped both his physical and mental wellbeing.

 

“I smashed two personal bests. I qualified for the final of the road cycling event. It’s absolutely amazing. I never ever thought I’d do anything like that.” ​

As well as taking part in the Invictus Games, Nick exhibited his artwork at the first ever Help for Heroes Creative Force exhibition over the summer and sings with the Invictus Games Choir. He says being part of the Invictus Games Team is a huge step on his recovery journey: “For my recovery the Invictus Games is absolutely awesome. Help for Heroes for me has been like having a big brother who just looks after you. The feeling of self-worth that I am part of an organisation that helps others and helps me is just brilliant.”​

Alan White:

After being discharged in 2014, Alan’s recovery journey has not come without setbacks, but there have also been amazing achievements that seven years ago he never thought possible - such as learning to walk again.

Sport has always played an immense part in the former Royal Marine Corporal’s life and training for the Invictus Games gave him the determination to train harder still, and he now is setting his sights on the Paralympics. Alan said: “To be given the chance to compete for my country would go full circle from the life I once had.”

Alan White had his heart set on a career in the Armed Forces from an early age: “My uncle was in the Army and I always wanted to be a soldier. I was in the Scouts for most of my childhood and had always had an outdoor life.”

Joining the Royal Marines in 1992, Alan served across the globe: “I was in Germany for three years and was out in Iraq, Cyprus, Sierra Leone and the Gulf twice. I was very busy, but it was a really good time.”​

   

Hoping to gain a promotion, he was out on a training exercise when a freak accident changed everything for Alan and his family: “I was doing a speed march when a disc came out of my back, leaving me paralysed all down my right leg. They had to remove the disc where it was damaging the spinal cord and nervous system. I’ve got no sensory feeling in my leg and went on to have bilateral hip replacements.”​

It was a huge setback for Alan and he was left in a very dark place, later being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): “It was due to the trauma of all my injuries, what I went through in Iraq and growing up in Northern Ireland in an area that was very high in the Troubles.”​

He and his wife knew he needed help but Alan, in keeping with his military mindset, was reluctant to ask for it: “The way I look at it, there’s always someone else worse off and who needs something more than me.” It meant he started self-medicating by drinking too much and shutting himself away, a cycle he didn’t think he’d be able to escape from.

   

Finally having the courage to reach out for support, Alan sought treatment for his PTSD and joined Help for Heroes’ Band of Brothers fellowship: “Asking for help was the hardest thing. It was very emotional, because from always being able to do things with my family I got to a point where I couldn’t do that or work properly.”​​

After many months of training, Alan competed in Sydney in sitting volleyball for which he and his team gained a silver medal, athletics, swimming and handcycling. Now the Games are over, Alan is focusing his attention on training for a private pilot’s licence: “Help for Heroes has given me funding towards getting my pilot’s licence so that’s absolutely fantastic. The Charity helps you get your life back.”​

Kelly Ganfield:

Kelly, 37 and living in Wiltshire, was serving in the Army as a young Corporal in 2003 when she was diagnosed with a blood disorder that triggered a series of strokes, eventually leading to medical discharge from Service. She spent the next 10 years learning how to live with her condition and the repercussions of her brain injury which includes visual impairment and memory problems. Still struggling to cope and massively underconfident, Kelly approached Help for Heroes in 2014 for support.

Within months Kelly was taking part in things she never thought possible at the Charity’s Recovery Centre in Plymouth, where she is from, all aimed at increasing her confidence in her own ability and helping her to regain the passion for sports that she lost after becoming ill. She gained a scuba diving qualification, learnt how to ‘join-up’ with horses as a method of increasing confidence and trust, and ran the London Marathon. 

    

Kelly said: “A few years ago I never thought I’d be able to do the activities that I’ve had the chance to do with Help for Heroes. Since my brain injury I didn't think I could retain, process and remember the things I've learnt. It reinforces that anything is possible.”

With her new-found confidence, Kelly trialled to compete in the Invictus Games in 2017. She was selected to represent the UK and be part of the team going to Toronto, and in 2018 joined Team UK to compete in Sydney.

“Trying out for the Invictus Games gave me a purpose and sense of hope and achievement,” said Kelly. “I had lost my identity and confidence since leaving the Army, but the Invictus Games ignited desire, drive and a commitment to be somebody again. I now have an identity and feel part of something amazing. I am growing in confidence all the time and finally feel deserving of these opportunities.”

After she was discharged, everything from training to travelling to the gym on her own was a battle, but Kelly is working hard to overcome these challenges and is committed to becoming as independent as possible.

Kelly competes in athletics and rowing, and needs support using the rowing machines as she cannot see the screen and requires a guide to run with. But she no longer lets requirements like these stop her from training as hard as she can and has received a grant from Help for Heroes to allow specialist coaching from a guide runner.

     

In Sydney, Kelly achieved a silver medal in the 4 x 100m relay; a race she only stepped up to take part in at the last minute; and completed the 100m and 200m with guide runner Mikail Huggins, as well as competing in the long jump and indoor rowing.

“It is an honour and privilege to be part of this process and to have represented my country again. This process has given me an insight into what I can do, what can be achieved, and I feel I have a lot more to give. My recovery journey is focused around finding a new identity and confidence, accepting my disabilities, inspiring others, and moving forward to take on new challenges. I lost my career, but I have found something beneficial to fill that void.”​​

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