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A former soldier from Zimbabwe, who signed up to the British Army in 2000, has spoken about the support he’s received from Help for Heroes Community Recovery team in Wales, and how a grant to help him take part in wheelchair rugby has helped him find new purpose in life.

Following his medical discharge from the Royal Regiment of Wales, who he served with for 16 years, Bruce Falkenberg, 41, settled in Maesteg, near Bridgend.

Bruce served in conflict zones including Kosovo and Iraq and spent time with his battalion in Paderborn, Germany, and Tidworth in Salisbury. Nerve damage and a series of injuries to his feet caused complications which resulted in Bruce having below the knee amputations of his legs in 2013 and 2015.

Learning to get about on prosthetic legs and as a wheelchair user, Bruce struggled to adapt to life on Civvy Street, and found the network of support provided by Help for Heroes was a lifeline.

He says, “I first came into contact with Help for Heroes at Headley Court, where I could see the important role they played in physically rehabilitating those of us with life-changing injuries; but after my medical discharge I really began to appreciate the support hubs, and could see what they offer veterans in the community.  Whenever I’ve called on them, they’ve always been there.”

Bruce regularly takes part in Help for Heroes Community Recovery hub sessions in Bridgend, where Nuffield Health provides donated weekly activities free of charge for wounded, injured and sick veterans, including pilates, circuits and swimming.

Bruce says, “I think it’s a friendly place to meet and see people you haven’t seen before. Once you leave the army and become involved in civilian life, you can become a recluse in a funny sort of way. When you go to the hubs, you see someone you haven’t seen for a while and you can relate to them again.”

He’s also found a new sporting passion in wheelchair rugby, and has joined the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby team, which is made up of veterans and civilians with a range of disabilities. Led by “Jinks”, Paul Jenkins, who is also the Team UK Invictus games coach for wheelchair rugby, the Ospreys team has several ex-military members of the team.  The team was established in 2015, following a rebrand of South Wales Pirates wheelchair rugby team which started in 1989.

“The Help for Heroes Sports Coordinator introduced me to wheelchair rugby,” says Bruce, “He put me in contact with Jinks, I turned up at a training session and said, ‘This is who I am, I’d like to take part’ and since then I’ve been involved and I go once a week.”

For Bruce, the sport gives him the opportunity to experience the camaraderie he’s lacked since leaving the military. “It’s nice to be part of a team again,” he says, “There’s mixed abilities, I might have superior strength up top, but what I lack is the technical knowledge of the game.”

When Bruce needed equipment to take part in the sport, Help for Heroes stepped in again. With every rugby wheelchair being built specifically for the user, Bruce applied for a grant to purchase a chair and in 2019, H4H and Blesma jointly funded the grant enabling him to buy his own.

Bruce now plans to compete in the Help for Heroes, Ministry of Defence and Royal British Legion joint initiative Sheffield Games, and has ambitions to qualify for the Invictus Games in 2020. Taking part in physical wellbeing activities has improved Bruce’s outlook and general health, “I have to keep myself fit,” he says, “As an amputee, the fitter I am, the less likely I am to have problems with my prosthetic legs. I’m a lot more animated. It’s given me direction.  I’ve been like a paper bag in the wind, just floating around, but now I think I’ve got set goals, it’s given me new direction in life.”