Paula Knott’s career in the RAF came to an end in 1989 following a leg injury. In the years that followed, she had to deal not just with physical pain, but the psychological impact of losing both her job and a life she loved.
Paula was 19 when, during a vehicle search on a petrol tanker at her base in Lincolnshire, she lost her footing and fell from the roof of the cab, landing on her feet which caused compression injuries to all of her joints. Despite being medically downgraded, Paula continued to work as a clerk, supervising junior staff and taking on responsibilities above her rank. She never dreamt of her career ending when four years later she attended a routine medical to be told her time in the RAF was over.
“I went for one of my routine medicals, which I had every six months. I was told to sit down, and then was informed that my career was over. There was no warning. They expected me to return to my base eighty miles away, pack my kit and leave that day.”
Her world was turned upside down, without warning.
Paula found other jobs, but it was hard to establish a routine; her husband was still serving in the RAF which meant they moved frequently. Struggling with her injuries and fibromyalgia caused by the trauma, Paula, now on crutches and was signed off work.
Physiotherapy and medication helped Paula manage her symptoms, but her health issues took their toll on her mental health. “I became so poorly that I’d had enough. I tried to keep a brave face but behind the smile I was done and I wanted my life to end”.
“I’d try and hide behind laughter but inside I felt so empty, a burden to my family. I reached the point where I considered taking my own life every day. It was a good friend who convinced me to ask my doctor for help.”
Paula eventually received counselling through her GP, having struggled alone for more than 20 years with her health issues. As part of her recovery she started setting herself challenges including playing guitar, swimming, losing weight and even walking on fire. When she received an email about the Invictus Games Foundation Sports Festival in Nottingham she decided to go along. “I almost chickened out and I physically shook walking into the hall but everyone was lovely.” Paula chose rowing, archery and athletics, competing at the 2018 Team UK Trials in Bath.
Despite not being selected for the Sydney Games that year, she continued train and get stronger and fitter all the time. This year, she started powerlifting and competed at the UK Games in Sheffield, winning a silver medal for archery and accompanied by her husband, who had also joined the programme and won a silver medal with his sitting volleyball team.
“Being part of the Invictus programme gives a sense of purpose and structure to my gym sessions. Physiotherapy is much easier when you have a goal, and being active keeps that black dog of depression at bay.”
Entering the Invictus programme also led her to us when a fellow veteran suggested she join our Band of Brothers fellowship.
“Through the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers and Invictus, I’ve made friends who understand what I’ve been through and I’ve had so much support. The Band of Brothers really is a brotherhood. There’s always someone there to listen and pick you up on a bad day.”
With life looking much brighter, Paula continues to volunteer her time to support other wounded veterans. When she was discharged, she felt she didn’t know where to turn, and she’s keen that others don’t endure the same struggles.
“Volunteering is my way of giving something back. In the military, we’re a family. We work together and we help each other. I don’t want others to feel as alone as I did.”
“I’ve been fundraising for 30 years in 2019, it’s my way of supporting my military family and saying a huge thank you to everyone".
There are 40,000 stories like Paula’s. Join us in our mission to help all wounded veterans stand strong.