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Vicki’s always had a fighting spirit.  

It helped her reach the pinnacle of world football with Manchester City.  

It’s why she loves getting stuck into gruelling wheelchair rugby matches with Help for Heroes and Leicester Tigers. 

It’s what powered her 22 years with the Royal Signals, where she rose to the rank of Warrant Officer. 

And it now helps with her new daily battles; the constant agonising pain of osteoarthritis and the torment of post-traumatic stress disorder.  

The frontline of the Veterans War 

Vicki, 46, prided herself on being one of the fittest female soldiers in the British Army. But her world was turned upside down when mental and physical health problems brought her military career to a shuddering halt. 

And now, for Vicki, the Veterans War is real. It’s played out through physical pain, mental trauma, and the risk of social isolation. Her determination to stay active and make positive connections through Help for Heroes tops up her resilience. But there are fresh battles every day. 

Despite the many challenges Vicki has a busy professional and family life. She is head of global cyber operations at the multinational company Serco. She's studying for a Masters of Business Administration. As well as spending time with her family, Vicki is active with sport still. 

Vicki in her Army uniform
Vicki loved military life - Help for Heroes

“It was so difficult getting the medical discharge. I thought I was ready for it, but it knocked me for six,” said Vicki. 

“I was told I wasn’t allowed back in work pretty much straight away. I was isolated with no support. I didn’t get any kind of goodbye – no present or leaving do. After giving 22 years to the Army, I was left feeling like I was just a number. 

“I’ve got PTSD and body dysmorphia from certain events that happened in my Army career that shouldn't have happened. I was having nightmares and huge panic attacks.” 

Vicki has regular sessions with a cognitive behaviour therapist with our bespoke mental health service, Hidden Wounds. She also loves meeting up with close friends when she trains with our wheelchair rugby team. The exercise and adaptive sport help greatly with her physical and mental health. 

Pain colours everything  

“Being in constant pain is just my life now; I don't know what normal is,” says Vicki.  

“I have to adapt and adjust everything. When it flares up, when it's really bad, it impacts relationships with my family and friends, and how I can work.  

“It impacts my sleep, and when I’m sleep deprived and exhausted, everything is so much harder. There are times I wish I could get out of my body, just for 10 minutes. 

“I've got severe osteoarthritis in both knees. My doctor says I've got the knees of a 90-year-old woman who's run a marathon every day of her life.  

Vicki icing her knee
Vicki now lives with chronic pain - Help for Heroes

“I injured my knees four times while I was in the Army and had to go to hospital. I’ve had several operations.  

“In the Army, I was always super-keen at my fitness. I wanted to be a role model for the men and women, so I'd always go the extra mile. I’d always carry extra weight in my Bergen.” 

Vicki believes her arthritis was caused by pushing herself physically in the Army, and through injuries she sustained during her career, including falling off a 12 ft wall in basic training. Her surgeon agrees. 

34% of people in England have chronic pain.

source: Versus Arthritis (Unseen Unequal 2021)

Being on the side-lines 

Vicki grieves the loss of not being as active as she once was. 

“My husband shares my passion for the outdoors. He's an adventure training instructor in the RAF. 

“We’ve always been active together as a family. We loved the outdoors, and I coached my son’s football team and gymnastics.  

“Being on the side-lines watching was tough. The kids were saying ‘Mum, can you kick a football with us?’ or ‘Mum, can you throw a rugby ball with us?’ and even just standing there and doing that was tough. 

 “My injuries and pain have meant I’ve had to re-establish what my relationship with my family looks like,” said Vicki who is Mum to Ellie, 16, and Jai, 13.  

Vicki with her daughter
Vicki with her daughter - Help for Heroes

After being encouraged to, Vicki applied for compensation from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for her injuries. Following an initial rejection by MOD, Vicki was successful with her appeal and was awarded £6,000 for the pain and suffering in her knees, and knee replacement surgery. 

She said: “That sort of amount of money is not to be sniffed at, but how does that compensate for the rest of my life now? Because my knees are not getting better, and the pain is not getting better.”  

Despite everything, Vicki enjoyed some good times in the Army.  

“I miss the camaraderie. That's why I come to Help for Heroes’ activities. It's an easy environment to challenge myself, to improve my mental health because most people here have been through something similar, so they get it. I’m not judged.” 

Feeling free again 

Vicki’s new-found passion is wheelchair rugby. 

“When I play wheelchair rugby, I feel free again. It feels so good to move fast and be on a par with the lads. I love challenging myself. 

“Finding adaptive sport through Help for Heroes has been amazing, not just for me but for my family too. My husband is a wheelchair rugby referee, and the kids love watching and giving it a go. 

“My best friend Tom asked me to play for Leicester Tigers. I went to Poland with them and competed in the first ever European tournament. I was the only girl to play. We’re undefeated champions in Europe and the Premiership.” 

Vicki playing wheelchair rugby
Vicki found a passion for adaptive sports - Help for Heroes

Our sport and social activities are complementing the mental health support Vicki receives from our Hidden Wounds team.  

Vicki said: “Hidden wounds has helped me develop coping mechanisms to live with chronic pain. I use mindfulness and relaxation exercises to reduce pain perception and manage stress.  

 “I didn’t realise the knock-on effect stress has on how I feel pain and how I cope with it.  

“When my bucket is full, pain seems intolerable. It makes it hard to sleep and live a normal life. By turning down the stresses of my everyday life it’s easier to cope with the pain, and it makes it easier to live my life. 

Vicki sits opposite Alisha having a chat and a cup of tea
Vicki with her Hidden Wounds CBT Therapist, Alisha - Help for Heroes

“If it wasn’t for charities like Help for Heroes, I don’t know where some people would be.  

“It’s had a huge impact on my life, it gives me things to look forward to. It gives the family things to look forward to. It's changed me as a person, and that has knock-on effects on how I am as a wife, a Mum, and in my new career. It can't be underestimated.”  

She added: “Help for Heroes saves lives without even knowing it. There are no words that can express how thankful I am.” 

Will you join our mission to make sure no one is left behind in the Veterans War?