A team of proud and passionate sporting veterans have spoken about how life-changing playing wheelchair rugby for Help for Heroes has been.
In their first competitive season, the team were unbeaten in three tournaments. Their endeavours saw them win promotion to the Championship, the second highest tier.
The sport isn’t for the faint hearted. It's fast and full blooded.
But that’s exactly what players love about it. And the camaraderie and team spirit has changed lives.
‘It takes away the worries and pain’
After 22 years in the Royal Signals, Vicky Ross was medically discharged. Vicky is due to get counselling from the Charity’s mental health team, Hidden Wounds, for post-traumatic stress disorder and body dysmorphia.
She said: “When I’m playing wheelchair rugby, I get lost in the game and feel free from worries and pain.
“The support provided by Help for Heroes has had more of an impact than can ever be described.
“It’s helped guide me on a path to recovery from my physical and mental injuries. It allows me to be around people who get me, who understand without the need for explanation and without judgement.
“This positive impact ripples out into all areas of my life. It helps me be a better person.”
That positivity is felt just as strongly by former RAF technician Dave Anderson.
“Wheelchair rugby is brilliant. It’s end to end. It’s a lot of fun and it brings people together.
“I used to play rugby in the Forces but had to stop because of injury. After that, I became a bit lost.
“The wheelchair rugby team is a family. It’s probably the nearest thing I’ve had to being back in the Forces and enjoying that team spirit.”
A purpose again
In 2012, Tom Folwell lost both his legs and part of his left hand when he stepped on an improved explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan. His recovery has been a long process.
The support he’s had from the Charity has given the former member of the Royal Engineers ‘a renewed lease of life’.
Tom excels at wheelchair rugby. He was captain of both the wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball teams for Team UK at the Invictus Games in The Hague.
He also plays for the iconic rugby club, Leicester Tigers.
And he was a leading light in the Charity’s first season.
“I’m proud to represent Help for Heroes and play with like-minded people,” he said.
“The team is doing well. We won the league. Hopefully we will win promotion to the Premier League next season.
“I really enjoy being around other veterans. We have the same mindset.
“Sport is a massive part of the recovery process, along with things like education, training and employment.
“Help for Heroes provides a safe environment to play sport, in which I can be myself.”
Showing us what we can still achieve
The team has also given Army veteran of 24 years Noel Howard ‘a new outlook on life’.
Known as Yorkie to his friends, because he hails from Halifax in West Yorkshire, he was injured on a tour of duty in Iraq. After four operations on his shoulder, he was medically discharged.
Yorkie said: “In the Forces, I was always active. After getting injured I became a shadow of my former self. Sport was a massive part of the Armed Forces, and when I couldn’t take part, I really missed it.
“Since getting back in with Help for Heroes I haven’t turned back. It gives me a goal and something to look forward to. I just love getting together with the team.
“It’s gives us a chance to push ourselves further than we ever thought we could with whatever injury we have.
“Our coach ‘Jenks’ pushes us all. We do what he asks of us and then he always says that we can do more. But it’s for a reason. Jenks has shown us what we can still achieve.
“Every time you purchase an item, such as a T shirt or rugby shirt from Help for Heroes, you’re showing your continued support to all the former and current serving members of the military and their families. The money you’ve spent or donated goes towards helping so many people and allows them to continue their recovery journey, both physically and mentally.”
• We hope to build our wheelchair rugby club and offer people the chance to play at various levels by entering more leagues. Look out for information about wheelchair rugby taster sessions and friendly tournaments for beginners to try out the sport.
• There are also opportunities to learn how to coach others through our Coaching Academy.
• And look out for information about our Community Sport Series events where veterans and families can try a wide range of sports and activities, as well as socialise with new friends.
• For more information email us at: SAF@helpforheroes.org.uk