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Injured ex-serviceman Dave Henson selected for ParalympicsGB

Dave Henson _Top Trump 425x 638

Former Army Captain, Dave Henson (from Fareham, Hampshire) who served with the Royal Engineers, lost both of his legs when he stepped on an IED in February 2011 when on patrol in Helmand, Afghanistan.

“The next thing I knew I was awake in Camp Bastion hospital in the evening after my lads had loaded me on the helicopter. And that was it – legless.”

He subsequently spent five weeks in the care of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, a very highly skilled military medical unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, before being sent to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court.

Dave was in and out of Headley Court for about 18 months, and used swimming as a “vital part” of his recovery. As soon as his wounds were healed, he moved on to open water swimming with his family.

“Time is a big healer as anyone who has been through anything traumatic will know. It just takes time. Probably at six months in I had fully adjusted – not only to the physical side of the injury but to the mental side and the loss of career. That was probably the hardest adjustment to make.”

In 2012 he learned to ski, returned to work assisting other injured servicemen and women and was part of a UK exhibition team that competed in the Warrior Games, an inter-services sports competition for the US Military branches, supported and led by Help for Heroes. Dave returned to the Warrior Games as the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team in May 2013, winning medals in the swimming pool, on the volleyball court and on the track. This first experience of track racing inspired him to take the sport further, pairing up with his sprint coach, Roger Keller, in October 2013.

In 2013 Dave started a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, graduating with Merit in 2014. During his recent degree, Dave designed a joint recreation implant for use with through-knee amputees that can help amputees regain some of the function lost with the loss of the knee joint. He started his PhD on the same subject in April 2015.

At the same time, Dave continued with his athletics training and became involved behind the scenes of the Invictus Games – an international sports tournament championed by Prince Harry for injured servicemen and women from around the world, where he was the Captain of the British Armed Forces Team. Alongside a hugely successful British Team, Dave took home gold medals in Sitting Volleyball and in the 200m sprint on the track. Despite being new to the sport, Dave’s 2014 PB saw him comfortably into the world top ten.

Last year saw Dave compete on the World stage in various IPC events, with highlights of a silver medal at the Anniversary Games (2015) and seventh place at his first World Championships in Doha – a huge achievement in such a short space of time.

He returned to the Invictus Games this year (2016) in Orlando to reclaim his title and gold medal in the T42 200m, where he ran a Personal Best in front of Prince Harry who was track side watching the race.

“Everyone’s got the right to access sport regardless of your ability or disability. For the military though, sport is massively important because it forms such an important part of our normal everyday working life pre-injury, so for us to have the ability to regain what we might have thought was lost is huge.”

“My goal for sports is to keep on doing it while I still enjoy it. There will probably come a time where my body starts to say ‘Dave, you’ve got to start taking it easy’. Certainly on the blades, because they are quite a big impact on your body. There’s a bit of a price to pay with running that quickly but at the minute my body is feeling alright and I’m still enjoying it so that’s my aim for sport – to go as far as I can, as fast as I can while I’m still smiling!”

The support provided to Dave forms part of Help for Heroes’ partnership with The British Paralympic Association and UK Sport to introduce military personnel to Paralympic Sport.

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Jacko's Tour de Prem

Earlier this month, James Nutt undertook a gruelling 1000 mile cycling challenge in memory of his childhood best friend, and to raise money for Help for Heroes.


In November 2015, Jack Patrick, sadly passed away from a very rare illness called Good Pastures Syndrome. Endearingly known as Jacko, he was a dedicated fan of Leicester City Football Club, and after their incredibly successful 2015/16 Premiership campaign, James decided the best way to honour Jacko was to cycle to all 20 Premiership Football Clubs (2015/16 season) and to raise money for the charity that was so close to Jacko's heart.

Tour De Prem3

Starting in Newcastle on 10th July, James visited both England and Wales on his trip, cycled into never-ending head winds, and battled the rain and hail of the Great British Summer! After criss-crossing the UK James made his way towards Leicester City's ground, 7 days after starting his challenge, with 30 riders by his side supporting his challenge and all joining to remember their friend.

James set himself a £1000 target for Jacko's chosen charity, however while on the road James captured people's heart and inspired them by the challenge he was undertaking in memory of his friend, and has so far raised over £10,000!

"It's been a week of pain I'll never forget for a best friend I will always remember" - James Nutt

Tour De Prem

To find out more about James' challenge, or to donate to his grand total, please visit his JustGiving Page.

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Work experience opens eyes to support available to forces wounded

Work Experience Grace And Elliot

Elliot Wearne-Gould, 17, a year 12 student at Saltash Community School, and Grace Nash, 15, a year 10 student at Richard Lander School in Truro, have been experiencing life at Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre at Devonport Naval Base.

The Recovery Centre is the South West hub for the charity, which supports wounded, injured and sick veteran and serving military personnel and their families.

The students lent a helping hand in the support hub, assisted in the Centre’s gym and hydrotherapy pool, and took a trip to Falmouth to see first-hand what forces sailing charity Turn to Starboard, which receives grant funding from Help for Heroes, is all about.

Elliot and Grace also spent time in the charity’s Hero Garden within the Naval Base, which offers therapy through gardening. The Recovery Centre hosts a weekly ‘Veterans’ Friday’ activity day where the students had the opportunity to sample the activities on offer including table tennis and wheelchair rugby.

Grace, who hopes to have a medicine-related career, said: “It’s been absolutely amazing to do work experience at Help for Heroes. They offer such a variety of things to help people. I didn’t want to leave. There are so many things to do and so many people to talk to; you can’t compare one to the other. I’d definitely love to go back and help if they’ll have me!”

Rugby - Elliot And Grace

Elliot, whose ambition is to become a pilot, said: “Hearing the veterans’ stories really touched my heart. It’s been a great experience seeing what the charity does and also being inside the Naval Base as it seems so closed off from the outside. My experience has motivated me so much more to go out and volunteer. I now know there are some great causes out there that need the support of people like me.”

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Wheelchair Rugby makes an impression on wounded Plymouth veterans

With the 2016 Rio Paralympics soon to start, Plymouth’s wounded military veterans have been finding out what Wheelchair Rugby is all about.

GB Wheelchair Rugby sent one of their coaches and multiple game chairs along to Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre to give the charity’s beneficiaries and their families a taste of the sport.

Chris Marsh Gets Used To A Game Chair

Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, offering around 300 events each year across 50 different sports at a grass roots and performance level to help rebuild lives. This is the first time Wheelchair Rugby has appeared on the programme in Plymouth.

Participants, many of whom were completely new to the sport, were put through their paces over two hours, initially taking part in some drills to build skill level before being let loose against each other to experience the thrill of a real match.

Sport plays an important part of someone’s recovery, helping with self-confidence and providing psychological empowerment.  These significant mental health benefits can be translated outside of sport and into everyday life.

Veteran Mike Bellamy said: “Taking part in team sport is a great way of meeting other people. Wheelchair Rugby is physically and mentally challenging so it gives you a focus and takes your mind off everything else.”

GBWR coach Luke White added: “Sport is great for helping people with injuries. Wheelchair Rugby allows people to be aggressive but have fun at the same time. You can offer it to anyone.”

Good-spirited aggression caused the coach to halt training at one point amid concern for the game chairs when some of the group’s enthusiasm got the better of them and three wheels had to be replaced in a short space of time.

Debby Beeson Is Marked By Roch Rochester

While the majority were trying the sport for the first time, they were being encouraged by a few more experienced players. Grant Harvey won a bronze medal earlier this year as part of the UK’s Wheelchair Rugby team at the Invictus Games in Orlando, while others regularly attend training sessions at the Life Centre with Westcountry Hawks.

Leah Rochester, whose dad Roch trains with the Hawks, was given the chance to take part and had a game plan to challenge the competition after watching her dad train alongside veteran Glyn Barrell.

Leah said: “I’ve watched Glyn in training before and I know that his technique is to go down the outside while everyone else is caught up in the middle, so I’m marking him to make sure he can’t do that!”

Leah Rochester Keeps Away From Glyn Barrell

Young Leah made her mark on a number of occasions causing the adults in the game to comment on her ferocity, even though she was smiling the entire time at being able to play alongside her dad.

More than twenty people attended the session with many now keen to pursue the sport further.

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Iraq war amputee one step closer to dream of becoming a scuba diving instructor

A war hero who lost both his legs after being blown up by a car bomb in Iraq is close to achieving his dream of teaching other wounded veterans how to scuba dive.

Double amputee Neil Heritage, from Poole, is training to be a scuba diving instructor with the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC), as part of a project funded by Help for Heroes.

Neil, 35, had to have both legs amputated above the knee following an attack by a suicide bomber while he was clearing a route in Iraq. Neil was serving as a Corporal in the Royal Signals, November 2004. He was forced to leave his military career behind and focus on his rehabilitation and recovery.

Neil Heritage

He first learned to scuba dive three years ago during a Help for Heroes funded expedition where he gained his Ocean Diver qualification with the Army-Sub-Aqua-Diving-Association, a BSAC special branch.

Since then, the father-of-two, who works as a boot camp fitness instructor in Bridport, Dorset, has been working hard towards his instructor licence.

Now he has passed his Dive Leader qualification following a further week-long ASADA training expedition this summer, thanks to the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery programme. It is a vital step in the journey to becoming a fully qualified BSAC scuba diving instructor, and eventually he hopes to train other veterans who have been through similar experiences to himself, through ASADA.

Neil was one of eight former servicemen and women to embark on the dream scuba diving mission to the island of Gozo in Malta.

He said: “It was a great experience. When you’re in the water, you’re more mobile because of the weightlessness and you don’t have the same restrictions. There’s a sense of freedom.

“It’s amazing to see the progress made from day one to just a few days into the trip, and how people can improve and gain confidence.

“When you leave the forces you miss the time spent with military people. It’s beneficial to spend time with like-minded people again and get that back. There’s a shared sense of humour.”

Neil, who joined the Army as an apprentice straight from school at 16, first became involved with Help for Heroes through their Band of Brothers organisation – a support network of other wounded personnel.

The charity helped to fund new sockets for his prosthetic legs after he encountered mobility problems. The new sockets meant he could do more activities with his children, enhance his fitness and continue to lead a normal life.

“Help for Heroes and Band of Brothers has been a massive support to me ever since the early days," he said.

“I was injured before Help for Heroes was created, but came into contact with the charity shortly after they set up. They’ve helped me in all sorts of ways.”

Neil Heritage Fins

“Practically, they helped fund my prosthetics but they also helped by organising events with other people in the same situation which gave me a great boost.

“Some people like to talk about their experiences, others don’t. For some, it helps them to talk over what they’ve been through.

“This trip delivered different things for different people. I enjoy pushing the boundaries.

“I think it’s a common mentality among people who’ve been wounded like me. I think everyone on the trip was very similar and pushed on to see what they could achieve.”

So far, 17 similar diving expeditions have been organised in collaboration between Help for Heroes and BSAC’s ASADA branch, resulting in 80 qualifications.

All former soldiers selected for the training have been discharged from the Army as a result of life-changing injuries or health conditions and are put forward to push the boundaries of their endurance and abilities as part of their ongoing recovery.

John Gibbon, Vice-Chairman of BSAC special branch ASADA, responsible for the veterans’ training and organisation of the dive trip, said: “The Help for Heroes veterans are a great bunch to work with and always take a real ‘can-do’ approach.

“One of the key features for these trips is the camaraderie. Having come from a military background and been removed from that environment without a choice, they enjoy being back in that situation again, working as part of a team of people with a common purpose and background.”

Gaining his Dive Leader qualification marks the latest in a long line of triumphs throughout Neil’s recovery battle.

Previous accomplishments include a seven-and-a-half-week, 3,000-mile rowing challenge across the Atlantic to raise £1million for wounded comrades and the Help for Heroes Bridge Too Far Bike Ride on which he rode 350 miles on a hand-powered bike from Brussels to Arnhem.

Neil Heritage Gear Check

 Neil, whose current job as a boot camp trainer involves helping people to lose weight and become healthier, admitted his interest in fitness only arose as a result of needing to gain strength following his injury.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get from the stage of being a full-time wheelchair user to a full-time prosthetics user,” he said.

“I wasn’t really into fitness before that. It took me about five years to get to the stage where I was mobile. It’s difficult learning to walk on prosthetics - they basically replace your feet, ankle and knee joints and it requires a lot of energy.

“It’s also common to have problems with your stump in the early days. They change a lot over the first few years and consequently you encounter problems.”

Neil hopes by next year he will have gained enough experience to take his BSAC instructor qualification and if successful has plans to use his skills and experience to teach other wounded ex-Servicemen and Women.

“Life has been good for several years now. Hopefully I’ll be able to encourage other people to do a bit more and reach for a goal,” he said.

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