Two West Country surfers injured during military service will compete for Team GB in the US this weekend at the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship.
Martin Pollock, from Mullion, Cornwall, and Chris Jones, from Ivybridge near Plymouth, will compete in San Diego from 9-11 December, with 18 countries taking part.
Both athletes have been supported in their recovery journeys, which have culminated in competing at the Championships, by Help for Heroes.
Martin Pollock, 33, joined the Army in 2008. A year later he deployed to Afghanistan where he suffered a bullet wound to the leg, but after rehab soon returned to the front line. Shortly afterwards, in early 2010, he was caught up in an explosion in which he lost both legs and his left arm.
It was during his rehabilitation that he was introduced to the team who run the UK side of Operation Surf; a Help for Heroes-supported programme that links with US organisation Amazing Surf Adventures to provide rehabilitation opportunities through surfing.
“It’s hard to describe what I felt when I first started surfing,” said Martin. “I don’t think I realised the impact until later, how much it grabbed me. When I’m surfing I’m happy; it’s peaceful, it’s fun.”
Martin became hooked and has been taking part in Operation Surf camps regularly since. His skill level has improved so much he is now competing in the World Adaptive Surfing Championship.
Martin said: “The way I see it is I’m coming up to seven years old; in surfing terms I’m a grom. A lot of the guys have been competing in adaptive surfing since birth. I’m going in as a rookie so there’s no real pressure on me to do well.
“If I come back from this Championship and learn that I’ve encouraged someone to take up surfing, or any sport, it would make me feel like I’m doing the right thing on the path to helping people.”
Fellow teammate Chris Jones, 43, was discharged from the Army Air Corps aged 25, barely able to walk. But it’s Chris’ mental health that first led him to seek support from Help for Heroes.
Since his first contact with the Plymouth Recovery Centre in early 2015, Chris has taken part in a wealth of activities and his mental health has benefitted greatly, but the more he did the more he realised that no other sport measured up to his love of surfing, which he had to give up three years ago as his condition deteriorated.
“I enjoyed trying so many other sports but it made me realise I needed to get back to the sports I love and that there is no replacement for surfing,” explained Chris. Help for Heroes gave me the confidence to start getting back on the water properly.
“My injuries haven’t got any better so I’ve had to adapt. Surfing still causes me pain but the benefits I get far outweigh the pain. Mentally it does me a whole lot of good.
Chris will compete in the Championship in a class alongside those on waveskis; a type of surfboard with a seat on top.
“To surf in a formal competition legitimises 17 years of negativity from stand-up surfers who don’t think I surf because I’m sitting down. I’ve been trying to find something I can be proud of again and now I’m competing in the World Championships, which is definitely a proud moment for me.”
Team GB can be seen in action on a live stream via ISA Worlds during the competition from 9-11 December.