I am currently a serving Late Entry Officer in 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and like most people of my generation who joined the military in the early 90s, I have had a busy and extremely rewarding career, completing eleven operational tours and having the honour of being Regimental Sergeant Major of my Regiment before commissioning in 2015.
Throughout my career sport and fitness has played a huge role, apart from the obvious benefits that come from fitness; the opportunities that organised sports offer in the military have always been an extension of and complementary to our core values and the team spirit, camaraderie and adrenaline rush of competing has always fuelled my love of winter sports, Nordic in particular, which, I have competed and coached in for many years.
Like most things, in a fast-paced life, you don’t realise how important to you some things are until they are taken from you. My life changed in the early part of 2019 when I became ill and had to spend nearly two months in hospital, I was diagnosed with a rare condition that was attacking my central nervous system, which, unfortunately, has no cure and is progressive but can be controlled to some extent with medication. My journey from being diagnosed has been a psychological and physical roller-coaster as the condition has left me with some challenging disabilities.
I am unable to walk unaided and require the use of a wheelchair for long distances, I thought winter sports, especially the physically demanding cross-country skiing was far behind the “new me”, until I saw a post about the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team (AFPST) on Facebook showing them completing a 55 km ski marathon.
Learning more about the stories of the athletes in the team and watching videos detailing their personal journeys was extremely inspiring and something I knew I wanted to be a part of.
The newcomer’s day was an inspirational event and I gained so much from attending, it was very informative and allowed me to see what is possible in the future, what I can potentially achieve with the adaptive ski equipment and the realisation I have the chance to take part in an activity that I thought was now beyond my ability.
All of that, however, was only a small part of what I gained from the day, the biggest impact on me was the interaction with all the people involved with AFPST, the organisers, athletes and newcomers. It is difficult to explain but if you could bottle the atmosphere from the day it would be a wonder drug for recovery. It is a unique set of dynamics with a mixture of people from all arms of service (both serving and veterans) in a very relaxed environment.
When you have a disability or are recovering from an injury, either physical or psychological, it can be a very lonely journey and interacting with people who are, or have experienced that is magical.
I am extremely excited about the opportunities and interactions that AFPST can offer me and I am so glad I made myself go to the newcomers day to meet so many inspirational people. I would absolutely recommend to anyone who is on their journey of recovery or managing a disability to get involved.