The Invictus Games Choir 2017

The Invictus Games choir, supported by Help for Heroes, will be performing at Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday 18 December.

The choir was set up ahead of the second Invictus Games held in May 2016. They came together just two months previously as part of choirmaster Gareth Malone’s latest TV show, a two-part BBC documentary.

They penned the lyrics to an uplifting original song, Flesh and Blood, which was inspired by their experiences in the Armed Forces. At their emotionally-charged performance at the opening ceremony of the sporting event in Orlando, Florida they received a standing ovation from the 12,000-strong crowd which included Prince Harry and First Lady Michelle Obama.

IGchoir

All 12 members of the Invictus Games Choir have one thing in common. They are rebuilding their lives after suffering life-changing injuries or illness as a result of their service in the Armed Forces. Here are just a few biographies of the choir members:

Steve Grayson

Steve joined the Royal Navy in January 1987 and served in the Fleet Air Arm for 15 years. Undertaking numerous front line tours of duty, he served during the Gulf War in 1991 and completed three tours of the Balkans between 1995 and 1997. In 2000, Steve unfortunately suffered an irreparable back injury which led to him being discharged from the Naval Service two years later. In 2009, he was diagnosed with PTSD and this played a huge part in why he wanted to join the Invictus Games Choir. Having attended the first Invictus Games in London, Steve said he felt inspired to support his fellow veterans and felt the choir would present an opportunity for him to do so, not only by raising awareness of the issues surrounding PTSD but by also challenging himself in order to overcome some of his own personal battles.

James Belmont

James joined the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in 2010. During his time in the British Army, James represented his Regiment at numerous ceremonial occasions including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; Trooping the Colour and State Opening. He was also part of the military effort involved with Olympic Security in London 2012.

Whilst riding in 2013, James suffered an injury which would require surgery in order to recover. It was during the treatment of this original injury that James was diagnosed with testicular cancer at just 25 years old. Recently married, the news of his diagnosis was tough enough to bear, but further bad news was to come. James and his wife were told that as a result of his condition and subsequent treatment, he would be infertile. After going through chemotherapy, James was discharged from the Army in 2014.

“I joined the choir because I wanted to be part of the Invictus Games in some small way. To me, the choir is a means to ensure that military guys and girls on similar paths and journeys as us can have a chance to be part of this amazing experience. Hopefully that will give them a support network and promote more awareness of the wounded, injured and sick community.”

Andy Mudd

Andy proudly served in the Royal Military Police between 1974 and 1996. His life changed dramatically one Saturday morning in Colchester in November 1980. An Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device (UVIED), which had been planted under his car by the IRA, exploded as he and his wife reversed away from their home. Fortunately, the injuries suffered by Andy's wife, Maggie, were minor. However, the story was somewhat different for Andy who lost his right leg in the explosion and incurred injuries so severe to his left leg that an above the knee amputation was required. Not only were his lower limbs affected, but Andy also suffered damage to his fingers and his dominant hand as well as multiple scars and burns. Following the initial treatment of his injuries by the NHS and Woolwich Hospital, Andy received further treatment at Headley Court and just six months later was posted to a new desk job at RMP HQ London. Six years later, having stabilised physically and mentally, Andy retired from the British Army as a WO2 having served 22 years for his nation.

Andy’s life was turned upside down 18 years later when Maggie was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and died in 2004. With two young children, Jack and Katy, still requiring parental support, it was not until 2016 that Andy felt a void in his life. With Jack and Katy now grown up and largely independent, he saw Gareth’s the Invictus Games Choir as a “cheeky challenge”.

Alison Williams

Alison is an ex Squadron Leader who served in the RAF as a Training and Development officer for 13 years. After completing an Operational Tour in Kosovo as a Media Operations Officer, Alison was medically discharged from the service after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When asked about why she wanted to join the choir Alison said: “Part of my recovery plan was to find a new focus and re-engage with something I’d enjoyed previously. The choir looked like the perfect opportunity for me.”

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Sailors walk from Twickenham to Cardiff to support our Heroes

Two Royal Navy Senior Ratings and a Veteran of 27 years’ Naval Service are walking 180 miles from between the sticks at Twickenham to between the sticks at The Principality Stadium in Cardiff to raise money for our Heroes.

Chief Petty Officers Andy “Gibbo” Gibbs and Philip “Knocker” White, both serving at HMS Collingwood, and Mr James “JC” Cameron-Wood, a member of Black Rods staff at the House of Lords, are carrying  the Gilbert match ball for the Wales vs England RBS 6 Nations fixture on the 11 February 2017. Over the past seven years, Doing it for Heroes have raised over £477,000 to support our Heroes. They will be helped along the way by Georgina Crumpton and Penny Harris. 

Twickenham To CardiffGibbo and Knocker are pictured with Wales Captain, Gethin Jenkins, who presented them with the Gilbert ball at the Millenium Stadium, as the Welsh team conducted a final training session before the autumn international against South Africa.

A spokesman from the Welsh Rugby Union said: "The WRU are proud to once again be supporting Help for Heroes and Gibbo, Knocker and JC on the walk from London to Cardiff in 2017 for the RBS 6 Nations fixture. The walk is a tremendous effort for a great cause. We wish them luck and look forward to welcoming them back to Cardiff in February, and hope they look after the ball for us."

The route will be broken down over seven days, covering the 180 miles. Starting from Twickenham on 3 February heading to Reading, then through Hungerford, Cirencester, Gloucester, Monmouth and Newport. The final leg into Cardiff will see the team arrive at the stadium at 11am on 10 February when Wales run out for the Captain's Run.

The event is being supported by HEINEKEN UK, Crabbies UK, Essex Auto Group and Gilbert Rugby.

HEINEKEN’s Tim Galligan said: “We are immensely proud of our long-standing links with British servicemen and women and our support for rugby union. We are therefore delighted to bring these interests together by sponsoring a walk from the Twickenham to the home of Welsh rugby which will raise much-needed funds for Help for Heroes."

Michelle Chadwick, senior marketing controller for Crabbie's, said: "Crabbie's is a passionate supporter of rugby and there is so much dedication in this inspirational challenge. The walkers will take a great sense of achievement from completing the task, and Help for Heroes is the ultimate winner with so much money being raised for this great cause. Good luck, lads!"

Kit sponsor, Gilbert, stated: “We are delighted to again be sponsoring the fantastic team at Doing it for Heroes and assisting with their incredible fundraising efforts for such an empowering charity. We have a well-established relationship with the armed forces through rugby and couldn't think of a better team to trust with Rugby's number one performance match ball on its journey from Twickenham to Cardiff.”

Essex Ford are the founding sponsor of the Doing It for Heroes team. For them, collaborating with Chief Petty Officer Andy Gibbs and his team is a wonderful opportunity to support a worthwhile cause and enjoy the coverage the team attracts through their enthusiastic and relentless fundraising.

Essex Ford marketing director, Matt Brown, explained: "We continually go the extra mile to help support Help for Heroes activities, because we are driven by a debt of gratitude that we owe all the British service men and women who protect us from the challenges thrown down by today’s world. It’s important to us that we demonstrate our thanks by supporting those whose lives are compromised or affected by their selfless acts."

Help for Heores is all about ‘doing your bit’, and the effort and commitment of Gibbo, and the DIFH team over the last few years has been outstanding. Their latest challenge is a brilliant example of organising an event, rallying support and accomplishing something extraordinary while raising vital funds to help rebuild lives. We are incredibly grateful for their support and know this event will be as successful as all of their previous endeavours.

Follow Doing it for Heroes' progress on Twitter @TEAMDIFH or Facebook.

Visit their Just Giving page to donate, or text DIFH £5 to 70070. For more information, email Gibbo.

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Former Marine launches revolutionary wheelchair

Help for Heroes beneficiary and a former Royal Marine turned Paralympian this week launched his revolutionary wheelchair that brings disabled people back to a “social height”.

Philip Eaglesham from Dungannon who was at this year’s Rio Paralympic Games, with support from Help for Heroes, invented the elevating wheelchair after his frustration at his loss of independence.

Phils Wheelchair 1

Five years ago, Phil contracted Q Fever whilst on tour with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan. Although the infection has been treated, his condition continues to deteriorate.

On return from Afghanistan he customised a Segway by putting a seat on it in order to be at the same height as his wife and friends – but soon found he didn’t have the core strength to hold himself up. That led him to design Victor, the elevating wheelchair that lets users raise themselves up to eye level. “In October 2010, Helmand province, Afghanistan my life changed forever,” explained Mr Eaglesham.

Phils Wheelchair 2

“Just over a year ago I tried to take my own life.  I’d just had enough of the deterioration and the impact it was having on my wife, the kids, others around me.  It’s difficult to talk about it, but it’s good to talk about it.”

However, when he began working on the elevated wheelchair he found a new purpose. He said: “I was given an opportunity not only to change my life path but also the lives of possibly millions of disabled people the world over.

“With the support I’ve had, it became vital to find like-minded people who had the foresight of giving disabled people the ability to live in an able-bodied environment, rather than constantly trying to adapt or structurally change everything. “To take a disabled person back to a social height, to aid social interaction but also increase independence has been key.”

The all-terrain chair has been designed by the Medical AMRC team at The University of Sheffield and is also designed to mount kerbs and small steps and can turn on the spot.

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Mark's Story

Veteran Mark Taylor, from London, saw tours of Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq. In 2005, after a decade of active duty which culminated in a tour of Iraq that saw two men in his Battalion die, Mark attempted to commit suicide.

Mark says, “For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was my final tour in Iraq in 2004. We were the most attacked company of the British Army since the Korean War in 1950. During a single tour, our base experienced 595 mortars, 27 rocket propelled grenades, 17 Chinese rockets and over 2000 individual small arms contacts. Our company lost two men.”

Mark Taylor2

Mark believes he came back from Iraq a completely different person to the one that went out there. He felt he couldn’t be the solider, father, son and husband he needed to be which led him to attempt suicide in 2005. It was following that attempt that he was first diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Despite this he remained in the army for the next nine years, bottling up his feelings and not seeking help for his PTSD. Eventually his wife could no longer cope and filed for divorce. It was at this time that a concerned friend took him to the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House in Wiltshire.

Mark says; “I knew about Help for Heroes before but I didn’t know quite how fantastic their Recovery Centres were. Since then I have spent a lot of time living between Tedworth House and the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Colchester. PTSD affects the whole family, and my time spent at the Recovery Centres has enabled me to forge the closest relationship I’ve ever had with my two girls, who are 12 and 14, my partner, Yvonne and my family.”

Mark believes that Help for Heroes also helped him to gain a new appreciation for the part that sport can play in psychological welfare. “Before I got involved with Help for Heroes I had no desire to meet anyone new and my previously competitive nature had completely gone. But through the Sports Recovery programme the Charity encouraged me to get involved in sports again and I even became a golf champion! It’s been a great form of therapy as it gives me time to escape my past experiences and helps me to be social again.”

Mark was discharged from the army in 2013 and is now working towards a new career path with the support of Help for Heroes Career Recovery. He recently started his own business, ‘Hero Handyman’, offering DIY services to those who need them.

“For the first time in ten years, Help for Heroes helped me hold my hand up and say ‘I need help’. I’ve the closest relationship with my family that I’ve ever had because the Charity has helped me deal with my PTSD and become a better person from it. That is what drives me to raise awareness and give something back to a fantastic Charity that I believe saved my life.”

Click here to find out how Help for Heroes can support you

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JJ's Story

Military Paralympian John James ‘JJ’ Chalmers was serving with the Royal Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2011 when he suffered life-changing injuries from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast. He lost two fingers, suffered facial and leg injuries and his right elbow was badly damaged.

Having undergone facial reconstruction and surgery on his left eye and both legs, JJ spent time at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House, and went on to compete at the 2012 Invictus Games. There he won medals in cycling and on the track. He says, “Being part of a team and representing my country was something I thought I’d lost forever. It was the greatest week of my life.”

After getting a glimpse into the world of media and broadcasting at the Invictus Games and watching the Paralympics at London 2012, JJ decided to pursue a career in presenting. 

“The athletes I’ve had the opportunity to interview over the years, whether it be established Paralympic athletes who took part in 2012 or the lads coming through from Help for Heroes, are unbelievable. Watching the London 2012 Paralympics made me proud to be disabled. My recovery has shown me the world is full of truly awesome people. It’s my dream and ambition to have the opportunity to tell their stories.”

JJ Chalmers Rio 2016

© Roger Keller | Help for Heroes

JJ has gone on to present National Paralympic Day for Channel 4 as well as an online show for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha. Now, four years on from being inspired by the Invictus and Paralympics Games, will be presenting again for Channel 4 – this time on their coverage of this year’s Paralympics in Rio.

“Being a Royal Marine Commando was the greatest job in the world. My next career needed to be something I love doing and would make me want to get out of bed in the morning. It’s got to be something that makes me want to give everything I’ve got and presenting is that.” 

Click here to find out how Help for Heroes can support you

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