The final day of the World Pilot Gig Championships offered up a pleasant surprise in the weather. With forecasts predicting a potential washout, the partial sun and reasonably calm seas were a welcome arrival.
Help for Heroes’ team went into race three of the men’s event with the desire to move up a group, but a tough heat from a well-rested set of rowers meant they had to dig deep to keep hold of their place. What they gave in strength they sacrificed in technique powering through with short strokes based on adrenaline rather than settling into long, steady strokes. Even Jupiter, housing the Royal Marines crew who they beat twice so far, managed to pull ahead and keep that advantage at the finish.
H4H Valiant finished in 10th place of the 12-strong heat. Any less and they would have forfeited their position in their group but they found the grit to pull through so they go into the final still a part of group H.
One of the team, Jacko, only started gig rowing six weeks ago. But the determination he showed in training sessions earned him a place on the championship crew.
Jacko could barely move and struggled to get out of bed after an injury to his kneecap and a failed operation led to a diagnosis of a type of arthritis on the spine. A new treatment provided a lifeline for the young seaman who was a professional sportsman before joining the Navy.
Having been immersed in sport for most of his life, his injury and subsequent diagnosis saw Jacko struggle to cope and his mental health suffered. But with the support of his military rehabilitation unit and the sporting opportunities Help for Heroes has since provided, he feels he is now back on track.
“I went through a very dark patch,” explained Jacko. “I got very depressed and it had an impact on my relationship with my partner. She was the one who suggested I got help. The support I received initially through the military opened my mind to a different perspective of how to look at things. I did a multi-activity course and I was given the chance to go on a ski trip with Help for Heroes which I didn’t think I’d be able to do. It’s still frustrating because I’ll never be as good as I once was but I’ve learnt I can still be good in other aspects.
“I fell in love with gig rowing from day one. I found it very weird at first. I wasn’t used to the way my body moved with the oar but it felt good as I was stretching out muscles I haven’t used in two years. My first race in the world championship was an experience but really enjoyable. I just kept thinking that I needed to plough as hard as I could and hope for the best. I’m over the moon with the result. It’s cracking, we worked hard for that.
“Sport gives me that motivation to do well in everything I attempt,” added Jacko. Without it I’d be lost.”
The climax of the weekend took place late on Sunday afternoon. H4H Valiant set out to the start line for the final with a World Champion already in the boat. Their coxswain, Kate Bourne, from affiliated club Caradon, had just jumped out of Caradon Ladies A’s championship-winning gig to forgo celebrations until she had fulfilled her commitment to the Help for Heroes team.
Race four – the final race – was all about gaining the best place possible in the group. Firmly planted in group H, each and every crew wanted to finish well which made for a strong field. The Help for Heroes team were in the thick of it for the majority of the race, finally coming in 11th, ahead of the Royal Marines, regaining the lead they had over them until race three.
All that remained was to complete the line-up of gigs awaiting the new men’s World Champions, which went to defending champs Falmouth Gig Club for the seventh year in a row.
Help for Heroes’ Gig Rowing Team were seeking a top 100 finish in their third World Pilot Gig Championships, having finished outside of that in the last two years. After four races competing against 136 other boats, they achieved their goal finishing in 95th place. A proud moment for the team who have proved, without a doubt, there is life beyond injury.