The penultimate day of competition arrived with the swimming event taking place in Manassas at the 50m pool in Freedom Aquatic Center, north of the Marine Corps Base. Team British Armed Forces had a strong contingent of swimmers. Their talent was noted after the first wave of races when numerous medals had been won and an opposition coach commented on how many good swimmers our team had entered.
The medals just kept on coming and by the end of the meet the British team had racked up a grand total of 46 medals - 30 gold, 11 silver and 5 bronze.
Emma Pack, a veteran Army Gunner, who claimed a medal in all three colours, said: “Swimming’s what saved me. When I’m swimming I don’t feel disabled, I just feel normal.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the majority of the team in the pool, heard time and time again.
The team racking up the medals were: Jo Morris, Kimberley Sterling, Adam Nixon, Rob Cromey-Hawke, Nerys Pearce, Carolyne Dufley, Mary Wilson, Charlie Walker, Danni Hampson-Carroll, Emma Pack, Kirsty Wallace, Joe Humphrey, Paul Vice and Susan Warner.
Jo Morris, an Army Staff Sergeant in the Royal Logistics Corps, won three gold medals, having never swam in a competition before.
Jo said: “This has come as a complete surprise. I never expected to come here and win a gold three times in events I have never even thought I would be able to compete in. I have never taken swimming seriously as the pain was unbearable at times, but I have now found a way of swimming and not really using my leg to its full extent.
“It feels amazing to win and be part of this fantastic opportunity to display skills I have learnt very recently. Sport in particular gives me strength and something to really focus on. Just when I thought I couldn’t do something, I have found a way of doing things. It’s not about what I can’t do it’s about what I can do. So many doors were closed, however so many are now opened.”
Jo’s brother Jon Hursey had flown out to support her in the cycling, archery and discus events earlier in the week but had to leave before the swimming competition. Jon said: “I bought tickets to fly out to see Jo at the Warrior Games two weeks ago. It was a last minute decision. I’d supported her at the Invictus Games which was an amazing event, awe inspiring, so I wanted to support her here.
“I think events like Invictus and the Warrior Games have shown Jo that she can do things like this, her injury doesn’t stop her doing. She wasn’t interested in sports before this but being exposed to them she’s opened herself up to it.
“She’s always been quite stubborn when she sets her mind to it. Her main event was cycling and I don’t think she realised she could still do it with the injury so for her it was a new lease of life.
“Apart from when we were kids we’ve not been as close in adulthood as many siblings but I’ve come to realise she’s far better than she was ever given credit for. I’m very proud of her. Just saying that brings a lump to my throat. I think it takes a lot of determination to do what she’s doing. After her second operation she was told she may have to have her leg amputated if it doesn’t stop the pain but I’ve never heard her complain. She just gets on with it.”
Kimberley Sterling, a private serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, won four medals in the pool. She claimed gold in the 50m freestyle, 50m backstroke, 100m freestyle and 200m mixed team relay in which she was the only female taking part.
Kimberley’s mum Chrissie flew out from England to support her daughter, who she affectionately calls Kimmy, as she competed in the swimming. But Chrissie was as much there for the rest of the team as she was for her daughter, as she explains:
“I’m elated at Kimmy’s achievement in the pool. I think she’s worked hard for it, she’s been focused, she’s been in the zone. I’m delighted for her but also for the rest of the team because it was about all of them. The support was amazing. I was there for everyone, not just for Kimmy, win or lose.
“I’ve seen her come from thinking she was going to have her foot amputated to fighting to stay in the corps. Being at Headley Court then becoming part of H4H band of brothers. Being part of a team with a lot of inspiration and motivation, that team ethos, I’ve seen her come a long way.
“I’m sure there’s a chance she’ll work towards the Invictus Games in 2016, I don’t know whether with her classification she could ever go into the Paralympics but it’s something I’m sure her coaches will be looking into.
“I’ve always supported Kimmy as much as I can. I didn’t know until the week before she flew that I could come out to see her but I decided last minute to come. She really wanted me to come out. I know I embarrass her sometimes but she loves me really!
“Just looking at the faces of everyone now from when I arrived on Sunday to today, the smiles on all of them, win or lose that’s what counts. If I can motivate just one person by coming and cheering them on, then they’ll motivate someone else.”
All three of the British Armed Forces relay teams medalled, with the mixed relay team claiming silver, the women’s A team claiming gold and the women’s B team combining efforts with team US Air Force and Special Operations Command to claim silver.
The final day of competition today (Sunday 28 June) will see the athletics track races completed after being postponed on Tuesday; the last chance to add to the medal table.