Meet military Paralympian and injured ex-serviceman, Jon-Allan Butterworth, representing his country once more following his selection in Cycling for ParalympicsGB at Rio 2016, with support from Help for Heroes.
Jon-Allan, a former Weapons Technician in the RAF, served in Afghanistan in 2005 and Iraq in 2007. It was there in August 2007 that he was caught in a rocket attack on Basra Air Station.
“It was a normal day, we had breakfast, drove the Land Rover on the way to work, the early warning sirens started to go off and then the rockets came in. I was just unlucky; I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bit of shrapnel tore through my left arm and somehow missed all of my vital organs; I walked away with only a scratch really.”
He was operated on by doctors in a battlefield hospital who carried out an above the elbow amputation of his left arm.
In October 2007, while he was still recovering at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court in Surrey, Jon-Allan attended a British Paralympic Association talent ID day in Loughborough. It was here that he first made contact with British Cycling coaches.
In May 2008 he took part in the Help for Heroes Big Battlefield Bike Ride, a 350 mile cycling challenge around the battlefields of northern France, to raise funds to benefit other injured servicemen and women.
“When you’re recovering your body goes through a lot of changes. You think that you just lose an arm but it’s not as simple as that. You can’t do the exact same exercises as before to stay fit, you have to adapt and that takes time to learn. Your body starts to pile on the weight, it reacts to the trauma, it goes into survival mode and stores fat. You have to relearn everything!”
In August 2008, with support from Help for Heroes, Jon-Allan attended a Paralympic sports camp in San Diego to nuture his interest in Paralympic sport. Already identified as particularly talented at a Paralympic talent ID day in the UK, the British Cycling team then decided to put him through his paces in Newport Velodrome, on one of their more in depth talent camps.
He joined the development squad in 2009. “At that point you don’t realise how good you could be, natural talent sometimes doesn’t transfer to the bike, and it is unknown how you will develop. You’re just making daily progress, small goals and seeing where it takes you. It was quite weird for the first six months, getting into a new routine, getting into a good routine that promotes good habits, the foundation stones for success.”
Jon Allan says competing for your country is similar to being back in the military: “Not a lot of people can go back to active service after injury, to go back out there and fight for your country. So this is like another way to fight for your country. It’s an honour to represent my country again in the sporting arena. I can’t go back to the military but I can do this! Sport has replaced that longing to belong to something, it did replace the military.”
Jon-Allan’s talent for cycling saw him represent his country at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Track and Road Cycling, where he won an incredible three silver medals.
Being part of the military cohort and selection for ParalympicsGB provides Jon-Allan an opportunity: “I’ve won world titles on the track, broken numerous world records, even more national titles and national records! Then three silvers at London, I’m not being greedy; all I want is one gold at Rio! It would be really nice to finish off that collection.”
“Throughout my whole career I’ve received support from Help for Heroes. Initially it was the simplest things like grants for equipment - that probably helped speed up that progression to my first world title in 2011. I had a year off after the World Championships in 2014 to refocus. When I started my comeback to cycling Help for Heroes stepped in, not only with world-class equipment, but also with a world-class support structure around that. I went on to break another World Record at the National Track Championships in 2015, cementing my place back within the British Cycling team. Without Help for Heroes being there for me, it would have been unlikely that I would have done as well to date. I might not be here today, without that support, simple as that.”
The support provided to Jon-Allan forms part of the Help for Heroes’ partnership with British Cycling, the British Paralympic Association and UK Sport to introduce military personnel to Paralympic Sport.