Psychological benefits shine through as veterans put heart and soul into race

Psychological benefits shine through as veterans put heart and soul into race

“That’s the first time we put our heart and soul into it. We became a team last night. When the horn went and our cox said ‘go’, we just went. You can train all you want but once you get into competition your mind set changes.” 

At 62, Brian Kilgannon, a former Colour Sergeant in the Royal Marines, is the oldest member of the Gig Rowing Team. He’s no stranger to sport; his usual choice is cycling. He holds a world record for the most miles cycled; 1017; in 60 hours on a turbo racing bike, achieved in 2006. He also holds awards gained while with the Royal Navy Royal Marines Cycling Team, at one point cycling 341 miles in a 24 hour period.

This year Brian, a grandfather of 10 and great grandad to four, signed up to row.

“I saw the guys and it was something I’d never planned to do but I thought it would help my cycling by building up my upper body strength,” he explained.

As it happens, physically gig rowing has not helped Brian. His knees have taken a beating, but despite that he is rowing with his crew in the World Championships and would not have it any other way.

That’s because for his mental health, gig rowing is working wonders.

 Vets Race (1) (Large)

Brian (in blue) rowing with the veterans' crew

Brian’s psychological issues came to the fore around the time that he retired as a Royal Marine in 1993. His 23 years in service had triggered memories from his past which his mind had previously buried. While he has received support over the years, Brian credits his recovery in recent years to Help for Heroes, who he says found him.

“I didn’t think there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But Help for Heroes turned out to be there with a torch looking for me.”

In gig rowing, it’s the camaraderie that helps Brian.

“Cycling is essentially an individual sport. But when I’m rowing I’m in a team again, which is what I’ve been used to for most of my life. I also enjoy being able to share stories with the younger generation; they can learn what I’ve been through and in return I understand what they’re going through.”

Knowing that, it’s not a surprise that Brian gave 110 per cent effort in the veterans’ race in the Isles of Scilly, as did the rest of the crew, last night (29th April).

“That was the first time we’d rowed in that kind of environment, in a new boat, with 40 mins to get to the start line. We built ourselves up over that distance. Waiting to start, I thought if this is a mile and a half, what would 3000 miles be like and that’s what other guys in our position have done recently.

“We get aggressive with ourselves when we’re rowing, but that’s the nature of servicemen, it’s what we do. We’re in control even though it may not look it.

“That’s the first time we put our heart and soul into it. We became a team last night. When the horn went and our cox said ‘go’, we just went. You can train all you want but once you get into competition your mind set changes.”

 Collage

They weren’t the first over the line, but they weren’t the last. Regardless of positioning, they were proud of their performance, as were their many supporters, and that is what it should be about.

For that one race, the Help for Heroes veterans’ crew were focused on the task in hand, their oars hitting the water in time, racing to the finish line.

Now the veterans’ crew can stand down and support their team mates; the men’s open crew; for the rest of the weekend. And that crew may surprise their competition.

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