Four Team UK Invictus Games competitors are rowing 400 miles between them to raise funds for Help for Heroes, the charity they say gave them a second chance at life after suffering injuries whilst serving.
Lucy Holt, Kelly Leonard, Vicki Ross and Chris Anslow are all bidding to complete 100 miles each on a static rowing machine between now and 20 June. The distance is the equivalent of London to Edinburgh.
All four were due to compete for Team UK at the Invictus Games in The Hague this year. However, due to Covid-19, the Games have been rescheduled to next summer and whilst training camps are currently on hold, this challenge is giving them a new focus. Only a few team members have access to sports equipment during lockdown and these four competitors wanted to use the opportunity to support other veterans with their recovery.
A former RAF physical training instructor, Kelly Leonard, the Team UK Vice-Captain, had a motorbike accident in July 2000 which almost led to her having her foot amputated. The injury has left the mother-of-three with arthritis in her ankle and needing to use crutches on bad days. The 42-year-old has always held competitive sports as a major part of her life but says the accident stopped her in her tracks.
"I learnt to walk again and live the best I could within my limitations," said Kelly.
"I tried several different individual and team sports but failed to fill the void as I was never able to participate on a level playing field. I lost focus on sport; as a result my physical and mental recovery suffered. It left me with a loss of confidence and self- belief."
Kelly said her mental health has suffered during lockdown and she needed a new focus.
“My mental health has taken a nosedive and I have been putting on a brave face,” she explained. “The spiral continued so I knew I needed something to focus on. With the loss of Invictus this year, I lost the motivation to do anything. I need goals to focus on and lockdown inhibited my goals. It has set me back and I am doing my best to keep a positive midset but sometimes I fail. I start training and feel great but then I find excuses to stop because I have lost my drive. This challenge gives me accountability for my training. It will have a positive effct and will help me give back to a charity that was helped so many.”
Former RAF senior aircraftsman Lucy suffered a horrific ankle injury whilst playing Netball for the RAF and has had three operations on her ankle, something which has left her with severely limited movement.
"After the surgery, they thought it was fine, then the wound on the outside started to break down because it didn't have a blood supply. I was left with a hole in my foot. They had to take the blood supply from the back of the foot to the front.”
The injury has taken its toll on Lucy, who says she has struggled with her mental health since incident.
"It's affected my wellbeing - I was crying all the time. It's had a massive impact because I'm not able to do the stuff I love. I'm not able to run around with my five-year-old, which has been tough.”
Speaking about the rowing challenge, Lucy said: “This is about taking ownership of our training. We are taking control of our mental and physical wellbeing, and as a team, we will come out of these difficult times stronger in many ways. Help for Heroes has helped us all in many ways and we would not be where we are now without their support.”
As a serving soldier for 18 years in the Royal Signal Regiment, Vicki Ross, knows all too well how crippling mental health issues can be and once confident and outgoing, Vicki’s unseen injuries have turned her life upside-down to a point where she felt physically and mentally unrecognisable. Her time in the Army resulted in a number of injuries, such as nerve damage in her feet, shoulder impingement and knee surgery but also left her with severe anxiety.
She said: “Physical activity has always been a huge part of my life in every aspect, social, family and sporting life and it’s a great leveller to negate my anxiety. However, lockdown exacerbates already existing physical and mental injuries. Keeping a positive mindset is my key to surviving. By doing this challenge for Help for Heroes I am holding myself accountable for my training, my physical wellbeing and my mental health. When I want to quit I remember Eric Ayling who was 84 when he cycled for 60 hours to raise money for Help for Heroes and he did so always with a smile on his face. Challenges aren’t meant to be easy but we will all rise to this one. It is our way of saying thank you.”
Christopher Anslow served for 21 years in the Royal Engineers and continues to struggle with his self-confidence and self-belief since leaving the Army. He acknowledges that he is still at the beginning of his sports recovery and Invictus journey but said being selected for the Games and taking part in this rowing challenge has re-ignited a passion.
He said: “Just being around my peers and not having to explain myself and also not have to curtail my humour has been somewhat liberating also. Most service personnel have the same warped humour and it always helps not having to keep a guard up and to just relax around people who just 'get you'. It also helps me get out of my comfort zone and push me to interact with people which I normally avoid”
To donate, go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/100milerowh4h