The newly formed Help for Heroes Gig Rowing team launched their bid to conquer a world title as they completed their first competitive race in Cornwall on Saturday (14th March) ahead of their journey to the World Pilot Gig Championships in May.
Between them the six man crew, from Plymouth and South East Cornwall, have ten legs and two false limbs. The other injuries include severe rheumatoid arthritis, spinal calcification, haemochromatosis, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
While the crew finished 16 minutes behind the last boat in Saturday’s Three Rivers Race in Saltash, in a time of 1 hour 22 minutes, they entered the competition with an aim of simply completing the course, which they achieved.
The team and two reserves have been training for less than eight weeks after only coming together at the start of this year after the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Plymouth decided to rise to the challenge of entering a team in the World Pilot Gig Championships held annually in the Isles of Scilly over the first bank holiday weekend in May. 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.
Shortly after finishing the event he commented: “It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Parts of it were quite pleasant. It was hard work and there are definitely parts of me I won’t feel for a few days but we did well. We had a comfortable rate going, we weren’t overworking, we did short sprint bursts along the way. I thought it was a good training session with the added bonus of getting a feel for a competitive race.”
The crew are already 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.
Lee, who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder following a combat injury in Bosnia, added: “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.”
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 Help for Heroes team entered the 67-boat event, hosted by Caradon Pilot Gig Club, in Leander; a gig lent to them for the occasion by Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Their cox was Sam Austin, from Caradon, who competed in the ladies race and promptly got back on the water for the men’s. After a start which saw an unfortunate clash of oars, the crew picked up a steady pace which they kept up for the duration with determination. Having already completed the race some 20 minutes earlier, both Royal Marines Tamar gig crews stayed in the water to row the last 500 metres again with the novice crew, seeing them over the finish line with three cheers for their comrades.
Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, and in the past year alone have offered 300 events across 50 different sports enabling over 2,100 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans to take part in adaptive sports from grassroots through to performance level.