Four wounded, injured and sick servicemen and veterans from Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House, completed the canoeists' Everest - the annual Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race at the weekend.
The international race is a gruelling 125-mile contest over four days that sees 300 boats travel from Wiltshire and finish opposite the Houses of Parliament. Help for Heroes entered two boats into the challenge. The team finished 6th overall in their category, a huge achievement.
Long before the crews reached the Thames they had to overcome problems at Crofton Pumping Station on Friday, when a broken down pump meant the Kennet & Avon Canal was too shallow for canoeing and the competitors faced a long run carrying their boats.
However, high winds and rough waters meant the stage race was stopped in Teddington just a few miles from the finish line at Westminster on the eve of the final day of competition.
Veteran Mark Lloyd, a former Private in the Army, said the team still felt a huge sense of achievement. Mark suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and also struggles daily with injuries to his spine and legs. He has four herniated discs pressing on nerves in his spine which causes weakness in his legs as well as loss of sensation and difficulty walking long distances.
He explained: “We were told beforehand this is one of the hardest kayaking challenges out there and it proved to be true. We were pedalling for 8 hours a day, it was intense.
“When Storm Katie arrived, we were dealing with horrendous waves, some of them about 3 feet high. The boats are not designed for it so it was tough.
“Before it began it felt really daunting because of the hard reputation of the race but by the end it was an incredible feeling. It was a really good team effort – from the canoeists down to the support crew. The camaraderie was great and spending time with other wounded injured and sick blokes was a lot of fun. Knowing we were competing against able-bodied people, and beating them, was a great feeling.”
The international race includes the 55-mile Kennet & Avon Canal, 77 portages, over 50 locks, a 540-foot pitch black tunnel and several long runs carrying the boats. It has been held every Easter since 1948.
Tristan Cooper, Help for Heroes Phoenix Centre Sports Manager at Tedworth House, helped with the team’s training. He said: “Everyone at Help for Heroes is really proud of the team for doing this challenge. We are working with a group of people who have been through some of the most extraordinarily tough times, and they are not only managing their injuries but achieving beyond them. Their military skills such as resilience, stamina, team work, leadership and athleticism were evident throughout the race. Sport is so powerful in that it has psychological and physiological benefits that enable them to cope and manage better and the sense of achievement they should have from doing the Devizes to Westminster race is huge.”