Johnathon, who lives in Portsmouth, took part in Help for Heroes’ flagship event for the first time in 2019 as part of his recovery as a member of the charity’s fellowship group, the Band of Brothers – and was due to take part in the BBBR in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnathon Bulleyment, 35, a Leading Hand with the Royal Navy, was playing rugby for his ship HMS Westminster when an opposition tackle left him with a life-changing injury to his arm. Running down the wing, he got tip tackled and landed on his neck, causing severe nerve damage to his right arm.
“At first I didn’t realise how severe the injury was. I thought it was just a dead arm and that I would recover quickly. Even the doctors gave me reassurance that it would get better over time. But it slowly kept getting worse.”
Following a more in-depth consultation with doctors, the extent of the damage to Johnathon’s arm was discovered.
“I’ve got a tear in the labrum of my right shoulder and potential nerve damage to the root nerves. I was devastated when the doctor told me.”
The rugby injury severely limited movement to his right arm and he can now no longer lift it above his waist. He was unable to deploy on active duty and confined to deskwork shoreside.
This was not the career Johnathon envisaged when he first enlisted in the Royal Navy, in October 2005. He served onboard HMS Richmond, HMS St Albans, HMS Liverpool and HMS Westminster, completing tours of the Gulf, the Falklands and Libya.
He added: “I loved my job. It was a big game of chess and of cat and mouse. Travelling round the world, it was a little boy’s dream. It all ended prematurely for me and I found myself in a job which wasn’t fulfilling.”
Subsequently, after sustaining a further injury to his leg in 2019, he has now been medically discharged, losing his dream career.
The reality of his situation hit him hard and his mental health suffered, manifesting itself with anger issues and mood swings, and he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
Johnathon was also told the devastating news that he wouldn’t be able to play rugby again.
“Exercise is a big part of my life and it was a huge blow. I needed to prove the doubters wrong and show that despite my injury, I could still be a sportsman.”
After being introduced to Help for Heroes, the charity funded a recumbent bike and Johnathon, a keen cyclist, was able to rediscover his love of sport.
Cycling proved to be only the beginning - with support from Help for Heroes, Johnathon went on to take part in the Invictus trials in Sheffield 2019. He also represented the Navy in the Wheelchair Rugby World Cup for service men and women and is part of Team Endeavour's power boat racing crew. Johnathon also took up stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing and swimming - taking tips from Rachel Williamson, Captain for Team UK at this year's Invictus Games.
The cancellation of 2020’s BBBR will actually make this year's ride even more special for Johnathon, who will be taking part alongside his father. "Help for Heroes has given me so much support and enabled me to really push on with my life despite the setback. The Big Battlefield Bike Ride is one of the best events I've done. The sense of camaraderie is second to none and we all share the same physical and emotional experiences.
"When I look back to where I was at the beginning of my recovery journey to now, I can't believe the difference in me. This is thanks to support from Help for Heroes. Being the Veteran's Team Captain on BBBR is my chance to give back and inspire others, hopefully showing them that anything is possible."