“I learned to adapt, in the same way that you learnt to adapt as part of a military operation." Jaco Van Gass
Army veteran Jaco was a member of the Parachute Regiment. In 2009, he was completing his second six month tour of Afghanistan when the helicopter he was in came under enemy fire and he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, sustaining devastating injuries and losing his left arm.
Sport has played an important part in Jaco’s and through a passion for adaptive cycling he has gone from strength to strength. Now, he’s on the road to making his Paralympic debut in Tokyo.
“We were under fire. Through my night vision goggles, I could just see this red glow heading towards me and the sound of a rocket getting louder and louder. I twisted my body to brace for the impact and it exploded right next to me.
“The blast blew me away from my original position. I was trying to hold my rifle and it just fell to the ground. It was at that moment I looked down and realised I’d actually lost my arm. It was severed from my body immediately.
“There was an element of accepting [the loss of my arm] quite quickly. A bigger shock to me was actually all other injuries I’d sustained. I had a collapsed left lung, shrapnel wounds to my left side, I woke up with a colostomy bag, and I’d lost a third of my muscle and tissue to my left upper thigh. It was really touch and go as to whether I was going to keep my left leg – it was infected and the doctors at one point considering amputating it.
“I learned to adapt and I went with the mindset of ‘let’s see what I can do’.” Jaco Van Gass
“Cycling was the one thing that [I found easy to do]. I could sit on a static bike and I only needed one arm to hold myself up and still turn my legs. It was really good rehab for my left leg and I found it really helpful. Then, through Help for Heroes, I started learning about para sport and para cycling.
“I learned to adapt, in the same way that you learnt to adapt as part of a military operation. You can plan to the finest T, but if you land on the ground, and there’s a doorway where there should be a window, or a building where there shouldn’t be a building, you have to adapt to that.
“But I went with the mindset of ‘let’s see what I can do.”
It turns out there isn’t much Jaco can’t do. He became a member of the GB Para-Cycling team, and competed at the World Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He’s won silver and gold medals at the Invictus Games, and in 2017 even set himself the challenge of cycling 3,081 miles in six days as part of Race Across America (RAAM), raising money in support of other wounded veterans and their families.
“Help for Heroes is a fantastic charity and has been instrumental in helping me recover after injury. Not only this but the help and support they provide families is amazing. I will always be in their debt for the support they have given me.
Jaco made his Paralympic debut in Tokyo 2020, breaking a world record in qualifying, and going on to win gold in the Men's C3 3,000m Individual Pursuit, a bronze in the Men's C3 1,000m time trial, and gold in the Mixed 750m team sprint C1-5.
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