The newly formed Help for Heroes Gig Rowing Team is competing this weekend in the World Pilot Gig Championships (1st to 4th May) on the Isles of Scilly.
Between them the seven man team, from Plymouth, have twelve legs and two false limbs. Other ailments include severe rheumatoid arthritis, spinal calcification, haemochromatosis, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The team, who will rotate in each race in the Scillies to form the six-man crew, has been training for just 14 weeks after only coming together at the start of this year when the Help for Heroes Naval Service Recovery Centre in Plymouth decided to rise to the challenge of entering a team in the World Pilot Gig Championships.
Their service backgrounds span the Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal Marines and include tours of Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Gulf, the Falklands and Northern Ireland.
The crew are reaping the benefits, in mind and body. Sports Recovery is not just about competition; far from it. It progresses physical rehabilitation, mental wellbeing and life skills.
What might have seemed like an almost impossible task to others just four months ahead of a major competition did not put off the Help for Heroes team. A wealth of experience in delivering Sports Recovery opportunities and encouraging Serving and Veteran wounded, injured and sick to battle against the odds put them in good stead to rise to the challenge.
The team’s training has been under the guidance of coaches from Caradon Pilot Gig Club in Saltash and Royal Marines Tamar Gig Club within Devonport Naval Base. All involved have given up their time and their club gigs voluntarily to train the novice crew. Land-based training has taken place in the Plymouth Recovery Centre’s state-of-the-art gym under the guidance of Help for Heroes Sports Recovery staff.
The team’s cox is Sam Austin, from Caradon Pilot Gig Club, who has volunteered her expertise to coach and cox the Help for Heroes crew in training and through the World Championships.
They will race in a gig called Nornour, lent to the team by St Mary’s Gig Club, who say it is their fourth best gig after their racing boats to give the Help for Heroes crew a fighting chance.
Local support has come from food producer Ginsters by way of funding for team kit and resources to get the team up and running, introducing them to the Caradon Gig Rowing Club where Ginsters Managing Director Mark Duddridge is a member and will be competing in the Championships himself.
HELP FOR HEROES GIG ROWING TEAM BIOGRAPHIES - WORLD PILOT GIG CHAMPIONSHIPS 2015
Nigel LITHGOW – Former Royal Marine Colour Sergeant Nigel was travelling in a vehicle which hit an IED in Afghanistan. His heart stopped, his liver was crushed and he suffered brain damage. As a result he now has ongoing memory problems and difficulty learning new skills.
Nigel said: “I’m looking forward to the competition and taking part in a new sport. Gig rowing’s something I always liked the look of but never really got round to doing. I like the early mornings training on the River Tamar. Rowing gives you something to focus on as you’re chugging along. Help for Heroes has supported me previously by funding training to become a tree surgeon which I now do part-time. It’s great to be doing this with them now.”
Huw INGRAM - Veteran Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Huw from Plymouth broke his neck while serving in the Falklands. As a long-term result of the fall, his spine is now calcifying (the condition is known as ankylosing spondylitis) causing constant chronic pain. Huw had not been physically active since leaving service in 2003, until he started attending Help for Heroes Plymouth Naval Service Recovery Centre last year. He has since qualified as a PADI Open Water Diver and has taken part in a number of other water sports activities.
“Help for Heroes has given me great opportunities that I can grasp with both hands,” said Huw. “Rowing is actually helping my condition as the fitter I am the better I feel. This is improving my self-belief in what I can achieve. We’ll compete in the World Championships and may surprise a few!”
Gary HUNT – Originally from Watford but now living in Plymouth, Gary developed post-traumatic stress disorder following the end of his service in the Army Infantry. Due to his condition Gary finds it tough concentrating and is susceptible to panic attacks but is finding that gig rowing is helping him to overcome this.
Gary said: “I love being on the water and like a good team spirit. I’m hoping we’ll do well in the Scillies and work hard together but have fun too. I think Help for Heroes provides outstanding opportunities, I couldn’t ask for more.”
Simon GRAYSON – Royal Navy Commando Simon is currently serving with Hasler Naval Rehabilitation Unit within Devonport Naval Base. He suffers from a genetic condition, Haemochromatosis, which causes severe lethargy and requires regular hospital treatment. He also suffers from anxiety and depression and has bilateral tears in his hips due to osteoarthritis causing pain when sitting or standing for long periods.
Simon lives in Plymouth with his wife Jade, daughter Lydia,3, and has ‘one cooking’, due in August.
Simon said: “I wanted to get involved in a sport that involved teamwork that was compatible with my injuries and illnesses. It’s great to see the progress we’re making and to feel part of something, though it’s been tough keeping in time with the rest of the crew. I’m not renowned for having the greatest rhythm!”
On his chances in the Scillies: “It’s the taking part that counts! As long as we finish before the bars close we’ll have achieved.”
Nigel BEASLEY – Former Royal Marine Nigel who lives in Plympton, Plymouth, suffered a neck/head injury following a blast in the field. It also affected his knees and ‘other areas too numerous to mention’.
Nigel says he’s enjoying the ‘camaraderie and sleeping after Sunday morning training’ but has found the blisters on his behind tough!
Glyn BARRELL – Veteran Royal Artillery Lance Bombardier Glyn from Plymouth has died three times in his life, the latest of which was in September last year. Glyn suffered persistent chronic pain in his right leg since snapping his femur in a car accident in 1993. He was in a coma for eight weeks and had to be resuscitated twice. He has since had leg, knee and back problems and added to that with a head injury in 1996 on exercise in Canada.
The chronic leg pain finally led doctors to amputate below the knee in June last year. After being discharged from hospital Glyn was readmitted with a blood clot in the lungs and heart in September, when he suffered his third near death experience. Glyn now needs to use oxygen three times a day. On paper, he doesn’t look like he should be competing, but Glyn is battling the odds.
“It was tough to start with but now I’m into it it’s alright,” said Glyn. “I’ve done no fitness work in the last 10 years but since joining the team I feel a lot better in myself. I have a goal. It’s great to be part of a team again.”
Lee ADAMS – Former Army Private Lee from Plymouth served for six years until a combat injury in Bosnia sparked rheumatoid arthritis. Initially starting in one knee, in the last 15 years it has spread to every part of his body except his spine. He also suffers from combat related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Lee fears open water, which makes this even more of a challenge for him.
Lee joined the Help for Heroes Gig Rowing team because: “I like a challenge. I’ve got quite a fear of the open water but I believe if you’ve got a fear of something you should hit it head on. Ironically it feels great being on the water. It’s quite peaceful. Concentrating on rowing clears my head. It’s quite wearing on my body and can be painful but it won’t stop me.”