Wounded, injured and sick servicemen, women and veterans took part in Sled Dog racing yesterday as part of the annual Phoenix Winter Games, a sports competition between the four Help for Heroes Recovery Centres.
It involved a competitor racing down a 30m chute. The other team members formed a F1-style pit lane team, with each one playing a vital role holding the excitable dog at the ready, and keeping the sled steady before the off.
Veteran Mark Appleby praised Help for Heroes and the Phoenix Winter Games for opening his eyes to new opportunities. Mark, 43, was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 after a knee replacement. He joined the Army in 1988, straight from school, starting with the Light Infantry and then the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, which amalgamated in 2006 to become the Duke of Lancaster Regiment. He served all over the world, including four tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark first injured his knee in 1991 during a tour of Belfast where he tripped on a kerbstone wearing heavy equipment. Over the years, wear and tear doing infantry work and playing rugby in the Army caused his knee to deteriorate. In 2012, Mark had to have a knee replacement, which left him unable to carry the required weights for exercises and he could not run further than 100metres without pain.
He said: “Help for Heroes has really opened my eyes to a lot more opportunities and the idea of these Games is just fantastic. When you leave the military, the thing you miss most is that camaraderie and banter. These Games bring all of that back and it is like you are being reunited with your family.
“When you get injured you worry a lot about what you won’t be able to do anymore but these events just make you realise how much you can still be involved and doing sports is great for keeping your mind healthy. The Sled Dog racing gave me such an adrenalin rush, it was amazing and you could see the smile on the other lads faces too.”
Corporal Callum Nugent, of the King’s Royal Hussars, took part as a member of the serving soldiers’ team from Tedworth House. Callum dislocated his right shoulder in a rugby accident and has had 12 different operations. He also has a spinal injury.
The 30-year-old explained: “Help for Heroes has been amazing. Finding new hobbies has massively helped me, and helped sort my mind out as well as my body and strength. It is brilliant.
“I was nervous about the Sled Dog racing because I had my injury in the back of my mind. But it was really exciting, especially the initial burst. You can’t really tell how fast you’re going because you’re concentrating on the dogs.”
The Games carry on throughout the week and other sports include curling, skiing, sledge hockey, biathlon and clay pigeon shooting. The winning team will be announced on Friday.
Tristan Cooper, Phoenix Centre Manager at Tedworth House Recovery Centre, explained: “The idea behind the Games is to be all-inclusive and to bring together wounded, injured and sick veterans and service personnel in a friendly yet competitive environment, where they can re-experience the camaraderie and social environment of the military. Sport is a huge part of the recovery journey for an individual, providing a sense of purpose to achieve and it can really accelerate someone’s personal recovery journey. The Games are a fantastic example of what wounded, injured and sick service men and women can do post injury, by using the power of adaptive sport throughout their recovery.”
Alaskan Malamute owner John Binding, 51 of Shepton Mallet, explained: “Alaskan Malamutes are a very family orientated dog and they can give a lot back; it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a really bad day, they can bring a smile to anyone’s face.
“We wanted to give something back to the veterans, and give them a taste of what life is like with the Alaskan Malamutes and to give them the opportunity of doing something they wouldn’t otherwise get to do. Riding the rig is exhilarating.”
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