Today started early with the bus leaving our hotel at 06:30. Amazingly all of our Invictus Games hopefuls were right on time, ready and eager to start their training.
The first stop on our journey was to a place called the Taj, which was close to Randolph Air Force Base where our training is taking place. Here, we took the opportunity to take a group shot, formally marking the start of the San Antonio Training & Competition camp.
Once the group shot had been captured, the US Air Force and British teams made their way to Randolph Air Bases’ gym, which is our base for the next few days.
To kick things off we had a small opening ceremony, with remarks from some fairly important people within the US Military. The fact that someone important had taken the time to come down and open the camp made all our heroes feel special. Next up was a Sports Psychology session, the aim of which was to get the guys and girls thinking in the right way so that they got as much as they can out of the camp as possible. He asked the potential competitors to think about their strengths, weaknesses and sporting goals, and then encouraged everyone to formulate action and attitude statements that would get each person to their identified sporting goal. By the end of the session our guys and girls were certainly thinking the right way!
Next, the moment all of our Invictus Games hopefuls had been waiting for… it was time to train, and boy did our guys work hard; by the end of the day each of them were dripping with sweat! The morning session was focused on skills and our wheelchair basketball players had a refresher on the basics and an opportunity to get used to their chairs first. They were being taught by coaches from US teams, and the level of coaching from these guys was high.
Following that was a session on Picks and Rolls, which our guys found really useful and informative. It is great to see the pure joy on people’s faces as they get stuck in and absorbed in the sport they are playing; the sport they love. One of our Basketball players, Lee, says: “when I sit in my chair, I feel truly free, everything else in my life just drops away and I am able to focus on the sport.”
It’s amazing to see, first-hand, the very real benefits of sport as part of an individual’s road to recovery. And, to know that the opportunities the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery Team offer those who have suffered a life-changing injury or illness whilst in service to our country is making a very real difference in these heroes’ lives is an immense privilege. It is also a reminder of why events like the Invictus Games, which are being run by the Royal Foundation and the MOD, are so important to our Country’s wounded.
Over on the other court, our Sitting Volleyball players were being put through their paces by Kari Miller, a two time Paralympic Silver medallist for TeamUSA. The opportunity to learn from someone so talented and inspirational is a real honour for our guys. Charlie Walker, who is not only a Sitting Volleyball player but the British Armed Forces coach too, said: “The opportunity to come and train in the states with someone like Kari is amazing, and something that doesn’t come along often. I love the fact that some British Armed Forces hopefuls have been invited over with Help for Heroes, after all, we fought with our allies, so it’s only right that we play alongside them too.”
After lunch both teams took to their respective courts to play rolling scrimmages, putting their new found skills to the test. One thing is sure; our team are now absolutely chomping at the bit to get down to the competition element of the training camp, which starts tomorrow.
Something that has been prevalent throughout the day is the fact that our heroes and America’s Warriors have the same wounds, the same problems, the same ‘can-do’ attitude, the same humility and the same determination to not let their injury or illness dictate how the rest of their life will be led. These guys truly are the epitome of inspiration, and seeing them play alongside each other today has been an awesome experience and absolute privilege. For me, the highlight has been seeing sport transform these guys and girls lives. For the time that they are on the Basketball or Sitting Volleyball courts their pain, worries, difficulties and problems drop away; it is just them and their sport and they are free.
At five, the bus arrived to take the teams back to our hotel, where some of our guys and girls had a quick change to make it out to a planned cinema trip. However, quite a lot of our guys were pretty tired after a full-on and fun day of training, so they opted for a quiet supper before winding down for the evening.
Tomorrow, the real competition starts, and our guys and the US Air Force will be joined by Army and Navy teams, which will add a whole new level to the competition. One thing is certain; each game will be hard fought and blood, sweat and (happy) tears will be shed for each point! If you want to follow the action as it happens, you can follow us on Twitter, where we will be live-tweeting - @H4H_SR.
If you'd like to support our heroes along their sporting roads to recovery then you can donate to Help for Heroes Sports Recovery. Either, visit http://www.bmycharity.com/h4hsportsrecovery and leave a donation of your choice, or text SPORT to 70900 to donate £5. 100% of the £5 comes to Help for Heroes. (You will be charged £5 plus your standard network rate. Mobile networks helpline: 01494 750 500)