British para-triathlete Joe Townsend, who is supported by Help for Heroes, enjoyed success on the international circuit on Friday (27th May) on his way to Bronze on the hunt for final Paralympic qualification points at the (ETU) Para Triathlon European Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.
Joe lined up with international competition and fellow Great Britain athlete Phil Hogg in the PT1 race.
The Netherlands’ Jetze Plat and Geert Schipper took gold and silver, respectively. Plat (57:52) secured his third European championship in three years; teammate Schipper (1:01:48) followed in second.
The Dutch duo spoiled a one-two finish from top British contenders Joe (1:02:47) and Phil (1:06:22), who finished third and fifth respectively.
The support provided to Joe forms part of the Help for Heroes’ partnership with British Triathlon and the British Paralympic Association to introduce military personnel and veterans to Paralympic Sport.
Joe was serving with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan in 2008 when he stood on Improvised Explosive Device out on patrol: “I was thrown into the air, hit the floor and looked around to see who’d been hurt. Then reality struck – it was me. One of my legs was missing and the other was badly damaged, which would later be amputated.”
More than 10 months later, Joe was out and about on prosthetics after being told he’d never walk again. Even though he’d already made incredible progress, the loss of his military career meant he knew his recovery was only just beginning: “I’d been going through rehab yet all I was doing was surviving. I’d got back to being independent but had no purpose. I wasn’t making any progress in life.”
That changed when Joe went to a sports training camp in San Diego, funded by Help for Heroes: “That trip ignited a fire within me. It opened my eyes to the world of adapted sport and what was possible. That was the turning point in my recovery. It gave me a focus; I knew where I was going with my life again. Once I was using the adaptive equipment I felt free, my disability had become irrelevant. It wasn’t impairing me and that’s why I love sport. It’s a brilliant feeling.”
Joe was accepted onto the GB Para-Triathlon Programme and is now working towards his ultimate goal of competing at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. He has been supported by Help for Heroes throughout his journey, including funding for specialist equipment and competition entry. Joe is also part of the Charity’s Sports Recovery Academy: “Their focus is to give you the best chance to compete to your full potential. As an extra support network it’s phenomenal.
“It would be an incredible achievement to be selected for Rio; I’d be over the moon. It’s something I’ve been solely focusing on for the best part of three years. I’ve been at my lowest and Rio would be the chance to be at my highest. Without Help for Heroes and the donations from the public I probably wouldn’t be on this awesome journey competing as a professional triathlete. Thank you!”
Complete results from the Para Triathlon European Championships can be found on the International Triathlon Union’s website.
Paratriathlon will debut in Rio 2016 and will feature races in the men’s PT1, 2, and 4 and women’s PT2, 4, and 5. There are currently five sport classes for athletes with an impairment to compete in over the sprint paratriathlon distance of 750m swim, 20km bike (hand bike/tandem), 5km run (racing wheelchair) at all ITU Paratriathlon sanctioned events each year.
Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, and put on events across different sports enabling over 2,100 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans to take part in adaptive sports from grassroots through to performance level each year.
To find out more about Help for Heroes’ Sports Recovery Programme, follow @H4H_SR on Twitter.