British charity Help for Heroes is celebrating a huge rise in the number of wounded military veterans and service personnel taking part in sport in the 12 months since the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Over 1,000 individual sporting grants have been given by Help for Heroes over the past year – up 80% annually. Contributions vary from grassroots financial support for new equipment such as handbikes, to funding to help participation at international competitions.
As part of the Paralympic legacy programme, Help for Heroes and the British Paralympic Association have also jointly launched an initiative called ‘Front Line to Start Line’ to introduce injured military personnel and veterans to opportunities in Paralympic sport.
This programme includes the identification of individuals who have the potential to represent Paralympics GB in Rio 2016 or beyond, and has already helped identify eight individuals across three sports who have now been placed on National GB Sports Programmes. A further 27 athletes have also been identified by GB sports as ‘talented’ and are in the process of going through classification and confirmation camps.
Martin Colclough, Head of Physical Recovery at Help for Heroes says: “Help for Heroes has always understood the important role sport plays in someone’s recovery. Many people talk about a ‘Paralympic Legacy’ and the substantial increase in support we have provided in sport demonstrates it in action. To us, the Paralympic Legacy is not just about performance athletes, it’s about inspiring people at any level to achieve their own personal best in from sport.”
One of those athletes being helped by the programme is Royal Marine Joe Townsend, who lost both his legs in 2008 after standing on an anti-tank mine in Afghanistan, and who was the centrepiece of the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony when he zip wired into the stadium with the Paralympic torch.
In the years since he was wounded, Joe has completed many endurance races including the Bolton Iron Man (twice), and various other triathlons as well as cycling over 3,000 miles in the RAAM with seven other wounded servicemen in June 2012.
Recently Joe came third in the 2013 Alanya ETU Triathlon European Championships and he has been selected to represent ParalympicsGB in the Paratriathlon World Championships this September. He also has his sights firmly set on Rio, when Paratriathlon will be introduced as a new sport.
Joe says: “You’re out serving your country, you’re young, you’re fit, you’re in the prime of your life and then you have a life-changing injury. It’s a long battle to get over that, getting through rehabilitation and learning to look after yourself. Sport proves to you what you can do instead of what you can’t do.
"You’re pushing yourself to your limit and it’s an incredible feeling exceeding the fitness levels you had before. Rio for me would be like the icing on the cake, but it’s also a rehabilitation pathway. With the help of Help for Heroes and some solid training I hope to be able to represent my country once again.”