Today marks just 50 days to go until only the second ever Invictus Games begins, taking place in Orlando, Florida. Competitors hoping to take part are now in intensive training to be ready for the international event.
Eighteen swimmers took to the water last week at Aspire Defence Leisure Centre in Aldershot where they underwent two rigorous days worth of swimming training by coach Steve Fivash. They were skill-based sessions with specific emphasis on diving and stroke technique.
One of the swimmers hoping to make a splash at this year’s Invictus Games is Mike Goody, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after a roadside IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2008.
Mike, who previously swam the Channel for Help for Heroes, said: “I struggled with movement at first after my injury but I couldn’t wait to be involved in any water-based sport. I took up kayaking, water skiing, anything that put me in the water. Swimming has been a massive tool in my recovery and I really hope I can play a part in the Invictus Games this year. Being here training with everyone else is like being part of the family again.”
For the first time, Wheelchair Tennis will feature at the Invictus Games this year, having missed out as a spectacle in 2014. Two hopefuls – Andy McErlean and Luke Sinnott – arrived at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton on Wednesday for a two-day session with members of the GB Tennis Coaching Team. It was the perfect training setting to inspire the players as the Davis Cup trophy, won by Great Britain in 2015, stood just metres away from their practise court.
With the format at the Games being doubles, Andy and Luke were put through their paces by the team of coaches and endured a tough fitness test too.
Andy always excelled at sport, particularly tennis, but his life changed forever when he snapped his spine in half in a car crash in Germany in 1988. Then 19 and just a year after joining the army, he was seriously injured as the car turned over on the way back from a rugby trial. He was paralysed from the waist down.
Andy, winner of the national UK doubles championships for wheelchair tennis, said: “I play twice a week and love all of the training. Seeing the guys progress and enjoying themselves is great. Bing part of the Invictus Games in 2014 was an amazing experience and I hope I get to relive it again.”
Archers were on target at Stoke Mandeville practising various skills and drills to send their arrows in the right direction. Blank boss training helped Invictus Games hopefuls to focus on their technique at the shooting line before introducing targets where the desired result was hitting the bullseye.
Hopeful Jon Flint, a former Royal Marine, said: “Archery has really chilled me out. You have to be focused and in the zone. It’s amazing how much a tiny little tweak here and there to your technique makes so much difference. That’s what these training sessions are all about.”
Coach Tony Ferguson commented: “Some of our Invictus Games 2014 athletes are now training towards the Paralympics; one is top 10 in the world. Those going into this year’s Games are going into a full international competition environment.
“I often find that archery can help participants find peace in their own recovery, particularly those with psychological wounds. It provides an escape and in the long term archers can find gains that they can take through to the rest of their lives.”
Skills, drills, match simulation and classroom tactics were the order of the first weekend of Wheelchair Basketball training at Stoke Mandeville Stadium. Many new faces have joined a few who won gold at London 2014 and this symbiosis of new blood feeding old hands was infectious. The hopefuls all gathered round for an opening talk lead by Coach Maj Scott Wallace where the commitment, hard work and unity needed to excel at this team sport was not understated.
Charlie Walker knows just how much work goes into being victorious under the most intense pressure after he won gold in the spotlight in London’s Copper Box Arena in 2014. Charlie said, “It’s great to see so many new individuals coming forward to take on the sport this year. Everyone looks really good so competition to make the team is fierce. Sport is playing such an important role in our recoveries and coming together like we have today is what it’s all about.”
One of the most physically demanding sports, Sitting Volleyball, got underway at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House. Hopefuls turned up, equipped with knee pads to soften the blows of moving around a full size Volleyball court using mainly upper body strength.
The session started with some intense warm up movement and handling drills bringing the players to a lovely warm sweat within minutes!
Frank Aveh, trying out for Sitting Volleyball this year as well as Athletics (100m & 200m) said: “It’s so fun to be involved and it’s great to meet new people with different injuries. I couldn’t sleep at night but when I got involved with the Invictus Games my life really turned around. Being part of a team is amazing and it makes me so happy. Anyone out there should get involved with sport. There are so many you can do, don’t just sit at home like I did!”