Today, four inspirational heroes saddled up and took to the pitches of Tidworth Polo Club to ride in the world’s first Para Polo Match – the Heroes’ Cup – which was part of the Best of British Polo Day, fundraising in aid of Help for Heroes.
Andrew, Cliff, Elaine and Nick have each experienced their own difficult road to recovery and know – first hand – just how restorative sport can be thanks to the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery Programme. The programme seeks to give those who have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses the opportunity – through sports – to regain a sense of freedom, independence and self-confidence and a belief that they truly can live beyond injury.
As part of their Sports Recovery Programme, Help for Heroes have been working with Cool Hooves Polo Club, who have been teaching wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and veterans how to play Polo for the last 12 months; for free. For four of those players, today was the culmination of months of hard work, effort and determination and win or lose, they overcame their own obstacles just to saddle up and play.
One of the players was Veteran Andrew Jelinek who sustained a serious spinal injury in an RTA whilst chasing a suspected insurgent vehicle in Afghanistan, which resulted in significant loss of motor control and muscle strength in his lower body. Andrew, who had eagerly been awaiting the Heroes’ Cup, said: “Polo is immensely exciting and it is a great honour to play in the first Para Polo Match.” Speaking about the benefit of playing Polo, Andrew continues: “When you get injured you completely lose your confidence, you think your active life and sport is something you can’t do, something you’ve lost – but on a horse you don’t feel limited in anyway – it’s amazing – it’s hard to describe what recapturing the speed and aggression of sport has given me. There’s no sense of restriction when you’re thundering down a field on a polo pony.”
This year, the Best of British Polo Day supported Help for Heroes, which is a Charity that David Cowley, the Event Organiser, has an intimate knowledge of after his son Nick was injured in Afghanistan. David saw the help and support Help for Heroes provided his son, and family, and was moved to do something to give back.
Tidworth Polo Club’s Duke of York Cup between the Royal Navy & the RAF kicked the day off followed by the inaugural para-polo match, the Heroes’ Cup. The main high goal Best of British Polo match saw eight of the top names in British Polo today battling it out for the Hattingley Valley Trophy, which provided an outstanding and exciting finale to an exceptional day.
Louise Watson, Help for Heroes Sports Recovery Manager, said: “The freedom and exhilaration the Help for Heroes Para-Polo Players have gained from playing polo is fantastic to see. The influence the sport has on the mental and physical health of someone who has suffered life-changing injury or illness makes this - and all adaptive sport - incredibly valuable. I’d like to say a big thank you to Cool Hooves Polo, who have spent the past year teaching our wounded how to play Polo and also to the Best of British Polo for allowing the Para Polo Players the opportunity to play their first match, and for raising vital funds that will help our heroes now and into the future.”
David Cowley, who organised the event, said: “We are excited to be involved with such an extraordinary charity and are very grateful both to them and to Tidworth Polo Club for their enthusiasm and support for such an important day in the polo calendar. Spectators were in for an epic eyeful of the best polo as the players battled it out in style and in such a beautiful setting.”