A sailor who suffered a career-threatening injury playing rugby for the Royal Navy said he wants to give back to other wounded veterans and serving personnel, when he leads them out on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride (BBBR) in 2021. Johnathon, who lives in Plymouth, took part in Help for Heroes’ flagship event for the first time in 2019 as part of his recovery as a member of the charity’s fellowship group, the Band of Brothers – and was due to take part in the BBBR this year before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnathon Bulleyment, 33, a Leading Hand with the Royal Navy, was playing rugby for his ship HMS Westminster when an opposition tackle left him with a life-changing injury to his arm. Running down the wing, he got tip tackled and landed on his neck, causing severe nerve damage to his right arm.
“At first I didn’t realise how severe the injury was. I thought it was just a dead arm and that I would recover quickly. Even the doctors gave me reassurance that it would get better over time. But it slowly kept getting worse.”
Following a more in-depth consultation with doctors, the extent of the damage to Johnathon’s arm was discovered.
“I’ve got a tear in the labrum of my right shoulder and potential nerve damage to the root nerves. I was devastated when the doctor told me.”
This was not the career Johnathon envisaged when he first enlisted to the Royal Navy in October 2005. He served onboard HMS Richmond, HMS St Albans, HMS Liverpool and HMS Westminster, completing tours of The Gulf, The Falklands and Libya.
“I loved my job. It was a big game of chess and of cat and mouse. Travelling round the world, it was a little boy’s dream. It all ended prematurely for me and I found myself in a job which wasn’t fulfilling.”
The rugby injury severely limited movement to his right arm and he can now no longer lift it above his waist. It meant that Johnathon has been unable to deploy on active duty and has been confined to desk work shoreside. Following a further injury to his leg sustained in 2019, he will likely be medically discharged in June 2020.
This realisation hit him hard and his mental health suffered. He started suffering from anger issues and mood swings, especially when he was told he wouldn’t be able to play rugby again.
“Exercise is a big part of my life and it was a huge blow. I needed to prove the doubters wrong and show that despite my injury, I could still be a sportsman.”
After being introduced to Help for Heroes, the charity funded a recumbent bike and Johnathon, a keen cyclist, was able to rediscover his love of sport.
“Help for Heroes has given me so much support and enabled me to really push on with my life despite the setback. The Big Battlefield Bike Ride is one of the best events I’ve done. The sense of camaraderie is second to none and we all share the same physical and emotional experiences.
“When I look back to where I was at the beginning of my recovery journey to now, I can’t believe the difference in me. That is thanks to support from charities like Help for Heroes. So leading the wounded on the BBBR is my chance to give back and inspire others, hopefully showing them that anything is possible.”
Riding alongside our veterans, witnessing how your support can change lives, is one of the unique experiences of our annual charity bike ride.
Our Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2021, The Somme has everything - camaraderie, inspiration and a new route along the entire Western Front. Join us and show our veterans we are here for them. We are Stronger Together.