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Tuesday 28 June 2016

Archery has given me back my life

Posted by: Help For Heroes | Categories: General

When Navy veteran Lee Patmore picks up an archery bow all his problems disappear. Not only is the 40 year old, from Basildon, celebrating becoming a GB archery instructor after Help for Heroes supported Lee with grant funding for his equipment and training but he is also succeeding in his new role as an Inclusion Co-ordinator for The Brentwood Centre and encouraging others living with disabilities to take up sport.

It's a million miles away from Lee’s previous career prior to becoming ill; Growing up, he had set his heart on following his grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Armed  Forces. His grandad was in the RAF so Lee joined the Air Cadets as a boy but decided a life at sea was more appealing and proudly joined the Navy in 1996.

Lee, a father of three and lives with his partner and three step children, served on HMS Gloucester (a Type 42 Destroyer) as an Operator Maintainer Above Water Warfare (first class) (OMAWW) and enjoyed his life on the waves. When the opportunity to join his younger brother on HMS Edinburgh presented itself, Lee was excited at the chance, and the two brothers were looking forward to serving together. It was while Lee was on his OM 1 course before embarking on HMS Edinburgh that he got injured. His back buckled under the pressure of the intense training. Along with back pain he had other symptoms which have recently been diagnosed as ME and Fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. Lee tried to carry on but the pain made it impossible, meaning he would not have the chance to serve with his brother.

The timing could not have been worse. Lee had just got married, was living in married quarters and expecting his first son. A medical discharge loomed over his head but Lee desperately wanted to stay doing the job he loved. He had no choice, however, and left the Navy, his job and colleagues in 1999.

A difficult transition

Lee found the transition from military life to civilian life incredibly hard. It was such a big adjustment. Not only had he left the job he had set his heart on but was in constant pain to the point he was prescribed morphine to dull it. Lee, who before getting ill was active and sporty, had given up all his hobbies including rock climbing.  He became angry and verbally aggressive as his frustrations and the chronic illnesses grew and grew.

Lee retreated and sat at home for three years playing computer games due to pain, tiredness and finding that at the time it was all he could cope with.  

However, this was not a life that Lee envisaged for himself and he knew he had to do something to change it.

Lee recalls: “I had always loved archery as a child so I decided I would join a local archery club and try it. Picking up the bow relaxed me and I felt at peace again for the first time in a very long time. I never experienced anything like it.”

Just as Lee had found something to focus on he quickly discovered a problem. Walking to pick up the arrows gave him searing, unbearable pain despite walking with crutches and he began to think that even this sport was out of bounds for him.

“I realised at that moment I had a choice; either accept I needed a wheelchair, continue archery and being active in life or go back to sitting in my bedroom. I chose the wheelchair. Archery had to come first before my personal fears.”

Help for Heroes grant funded Lee’s wheelchair but adapting to life as a wheelchair user was another challenge he faced: “I was conscious of the chair and I felt everyone was staring at me so I taught myself how to wheelie. I thought somehow it would make me look cool. It’s a bad habit which I still do but now I don’t mind people looking.”

H4H grant funds and new qualifications 

Lee discovered he was a natural at archery and began a plan to get fit. After failing to find a trained disability gym instructor in his area Lee applied for further H4H funding to become one himself via the InstructAbility Scheme and completed the Help for Heroes Personal Trainer diploma too. These new qualifications landed him a new job at The Brentwood Centre as an Inclusion Co-ordinator and Lee is proud to be able to support others living with disabilities to get involved in sport.

But it is archery that gets Lee out of bed each day and he has recently qualified as a GB Archery instructor: “My journey has been unbelievable. It has been a bad road; but archery gave me my life back." Lee added, “Sport is a key to recovery. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling or what has recently happened, it’s all gone when I pick up my bow and reach for my next arrow to load onto the bowstring.” Lee will be the first to admit, that since the start of his recovery, everything is linked to archery in one way or another. Lee also works at Now Strike Archery, where he has learnt the skills to make traditional Longbows and to hand make traditional Medieval style Arrows.

Giving back - Lee's next challenge!

To give back to Help for Heroes Lee and two fellow Veterans one who is also another H4H Band of Brothers will cycle over 1300 miles from John o Groats to Land’s End next year. Lee will complete the challenge in a recumbent handcycle using only his arms to power the bike for the whole journey and will visit all of the Help for Heroes Recovery Centres on route.  If you would like to support Lee or read more about this cycle you can visit the JustGiving page

There are many more wounded injured and sick veterans like Lee who may need support in the years to come. In a recent study launched in January 2016 by Help for Heroes and King’s College London found of the 750,000 men and women who served as Regulars between 1991 and 2014, at least 66,000 need long term support. To find out what support is available visit our Get Support pages.