Royal Marine and Help for Heroes Academy athlete, Phil Eaglesham, has been selected to represent Paralympics Ireland at this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where he will compete in shooting.
Five years ago, Cpl Phil Eaglesham contracted Q Fever, an airborne bacteria, whilst on tour with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan. Although the infection has been treated, his condition continues to deteriorate.
He says of the condition: “There is no real prognosis apart from deterioration so we don’t know where the future lies, but sport has really given me an outlook on doing something positive. As my illness deteriorates, sport gets better and gives us something positive to work on.”
This will be Phil’s first Paralympic Games, a huge achievement in such a short space of time since contracting his illness, and beginning to shoot.
Phil was introduced to shooting out at the US Marine Corp Warrior Trials in 2012, where he met and learnt from coaches there. He believes it’s shooting’s adaptive nature that helped him go on to win silver at the trials – which was his first ever competition.
“Not being able to play with my children affects me more than I could ever explain. Even things like playing with Lego or building a jigsaw puzzle can be difficult. I get tired and frustrated very quickly.”
Phil and his family have a constant struggle to manage the long term physical and physiological impacts of the illness, as they do not know how much further it will worsen.
“Just over a year ago I tried to take my own life. I’d just had enough of the deterioration and the impact it was having on my wife, the kids, others around me. It’s difficult to talk about it, but it’s good to talk about it.”
Discovering shooting has given Phil an outlet, as well as something positive to focus on. He has found that while his illness continues to decline, his shooting scores continue to improve. The sport has also given him the opportunity to compete again, a natural instinct for the former Royal Marine.
“Rather than just sitting in the house all day resting, I feel normal. It gives me a sense of being a Marine again. It takes me back to who I was probably more than anything.”
Phil’s main drive to be selected for Rio 2016 was to be a good example to his children and make his wife proud. Phil wants to show them that you should never give up, that incredible things can still be achieved, even if life doesn’t happen quite the way you would expect.
He would also like to use it as an opportunity to say thank you to those who have supported him on his journey;
“Help for Heroes have been at the forefront of helping me move my sport from a hobby to growing into a professional athlete. The support that they provide and the knowledge that there are genuine people out there who really want to help. It’s even down to thanking the people who put the pennies in the box. I see getting to the Paralympics as the best way to say thank you to, it’s as much theirs as it would be mine.”
Jayne Kavanagh, Performance Pathway Manager at Help for Heroes Sports Recovery said: “A huge congratulations to Phil from us all at Help for Heroes. We’re incredibly proud to be on this journey with him and his family. It’s wonderful to see how much he has progressed in his sport and the impact this has had on his life more broadly in recent months.”
“Time and time again we see the benefits of sport at all levels, whilst athletes like Phil inspire other wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women that anything is possible post injury.”