Our veterans accounted for more than four per cent of the medals won by Paralympics GB in Tokyo, highlighting the benefit of sport as a recovery tool – not just for veterans or elite athletes, but for everyone who wants to get involved with sport.
That’s the message we should all take from a spectacular two weeks according to the Charity’s Sports Recovery Manager, Hannah Lawton.
She said: “Sport has the ability to be such a powerful tool; we saw veterans representing Great Britain on the sporting field and JJ Chalmers, a fellow veteran, presenting for Channel 4 out in Tokyo as well.
“All of them used sport to aid their recovery but utilised it in different ways. The benefits of sport are far greater than only the physical benefits. That’s why it’s so powerful and why we provide so many sports recovery opportunities at Help for Heroes.”
Jaco van Gass
Cyclist Jaco van Gass took the early headlines with Britain’s second men’s gold medal in the velodrome – following fellow Help for Heroes alumni Jon-Allan Butterworth in Rio five years ago – when he saw off the challenge of Scottish team-mate Fin Graham in the C3 3,000m individual pursuit.
He then took a bronze medal in the C1-3 1000m time trial, before powerlifter Micky Yule matched that achievement in the 72kg category, with a lift of 182kg, more than twice his body weight.
The former Royal Engineers Staff Sergeant said: “What I’ve learned is you just have to keep on going, you can’t beat yourself up when you are down. Everyone gets low, everyone feels it. If things were easy in life then everybody would do them. Be there, be a driving force for people to do well. Don’t drag anybody down, just be nice really.
“Nothing comes easy, it is a rollercoaster of a ride. You have got to get through it and take the highs and lows when they come. If you can stay in the middle and keep training hard, stay accountable to yourself, and make sure you can look in the mirror each morning and say you are doing your best, you will get there. Whatever the situation.”
It was certainly that positive attitude that took his friend and fellow Afghan veteran van Gass to a second cycling gold in the C1-5 mixed 750m team sprint, alongside colleagues Kadeena Cox and Jody Cundy.
The trio overturned a final-lap deficit to record a new world record and pip China to victory, spurring van Gass to quip that his team-mates were better colleagues than Prince Harry, with whom he trekked to the North Pole in 2011.
“No, he (Harry) is a good lad and very down to earth,” smiled the South Africa-born former Paratrooper.
“I like a little team environment. I mean they (Cox and Cundy) are both the best athletes in the world: to be part of a team with these guys is unbelievable. It actually brings a lot of pressure as well, we needed it to go right.
“I think it’s the common interest of giving our best, being the best athlete and the best individuals that we are. And that came together as a team today.”
And a further veteran of the Afghan conflict also claimed gold in another team event: former RAF gunner Stuart Robinson, as part of the GB mixed wheelchair rugby side which surprised Rio silver medallists USA by 54 tries to 49 – with Robinson scoring 14 of them.
It was the first time any European nation had won a medal of any colour in the event – which is also known widely as 'murderball' – and the first team sport gold won by Paralympics GB in its history.
Robinson said: “It’s been not only my dream of trying to perform at a Paralympic Games but for us a squad to kick on since Rio, with the disappointment of finishing fifth there.
“We worked so hard during the pandemic at home and away at training camps. We came back and put everything into practice that we’ve been learning. We knew that we were building something special, and we’ve come here and put it all on show and come away as Paralympic champions.”
Jo Butterfield MBE
And the last of our alumni to step on to the world stage was Rio gold medallist Jo Butterfield MBE, who finished just outside the medals in fourth place in the F51 club throw, with an effort of 21.77m.
A former world and European champion, Butterfield was diagnosed with a tumour on her spinal cord in 2011 which resulted in her being paralysed below the waist. But, like her three team-mates, she hasn’t let it stop her achieving sporting greatness.
Our charity has been at the forefront of the adaptive sports field since 2008, for both grassroots and elite sporting opportunities for veterans. The support of the general public can make a real difference and inspire those with life-changing injuries and illnesses to live purposeful lives.