Team GB ahead of the Invictus Games in Sydney
An Army veteran from Cardiff is steeling himself for the experience of a lifetime, as he prepares to Captain Team GB at this year’s Invictus Games in Syndey.
Former Royal Signals Corporal Mark “Dot” Perkins, who lives in Cardiff, is using the Invictus Games to improve his overall wellbeing and inspire those he works with that there is still life and success after injury. “Invictus has given me focus to look after my injuries and physical wellbeing, and I guess most importantly, myself in general. After four years of intensive rehab I just lost my way, putting on weight, becoming more deconditioned and lacking motivation.”
After surviving an incident in 2000, which claimed the lives of two of his colleagues and left him with physical and psychological wounds, Mark had a medical discharge from the Army in 2005. He now works as a civil servant rehabilitating injured soldiers. But Mark found it difficult to follow his own advice until the Invictus Games came along. “I have struggled previously to practice what I preach until last year where I set myself a goal to be selected and compete in the 2017 Invictus Games. Now, having accomplished this first goal I have become inspired to continue and hopefully offer support to other injured veterans to follow this path.”
Mark took his wife Jo, children 3-year-old daughter Sienna and 12-week-old son Rory to the Superdry store in Cardiff to collect the official Team GB kit as they prepare for the whole family to travel to Australia for the games which will take place between 20 – 27th October.
He has been supported by Help for Heroes Sports Recovery team and was chosen to Captain the GB team following a rigorous selection process.
Following a vehicle accident in which two of his colleagues died, Mark had a hip replacement 13 years ago and is now beginning to experience pain again in this area, which may require another replacement. Mark had a high-level sporting background, but his injury and the psychological impact of the event which caused it, meant he lost all his desire and motivation for sport. But since getting involved in Invictus, he has found sport is helping him with his pain and bringing back his passion to compete.
He says, “For many years I have been struggling with pain and survival guilt and have previously just put my head in the sand. The Invictus Games has not only assisted my pain by making me healthier and stronger but has also returned my previous drive. Being part of the Invictus Games will only continue to drive me in my recovery.”
Mark added “There are few moments in one's life when an event occurs that truly transforms your life, the Invictus Games is it. They are all about empowerment, they empower us all to fight the chains of physical disability, to fight the intangible burden of mental illness and they empower us to focus on being the best we can be despite the scars that we all now wear.
“Whilst participating in the games our scars are like Medals that we can proudly display rather than hide in shame or embarrassment. Invictus allows us to be judged on what we can achieve, rather than what we can’t. To simply be selected for Team UK was an amazing achievement. To then be further selected as the Captain and to represent these incredibly brave men and women is extremely humbling, it is a huge privilege to be given this honour.”
“We have 72 in our team, and we’re going over there to show the world that we haven’t given up, and we’re going there competing in front of our friends and family, which is going to be the most amazing way to say thank you to them for helping us through those dark periods, when we were rock bottom, they stood beside us, and this is our chance to express ourselves and to show our gratitude to them.
“I’m a very lucky individual, this is my second Invictus. I did Toronto last year, which came with lots of benefits, healthier living, fitter, stronger, but then it came with some unexpected emotions really. I was a very lucky individual to survive my injury. Two people didn’t survive next to me, and I found that I thought about them a lot more whilst training because of why I was doing that thing, I was competing for myself and competing for those who can’t, and I re-engaged with the families during my Invictus journey last year. I discussed it with them, so shocked how their lives have changed since that incident.
“It is just that pebble in the water, that splash, the injury, that date 23rd August 2000, but it’s the ripples that have a massive knock-on effect to my family, my life, my career ended, but also to other families close by.
“I didn’t really expect that, [the impact of Invictus] I thought I was going along to celebrate a bit of sport and all these emotions came out and it sideswiped me a little bit so talking to Help for Heroes, advised me to re-engage with these people, we just did the social media stuff annually on the anniversary of the incident, however I found this really helpful, and it’s another way I turned to Help for Heroes for help again.
“You sign up [to the military] thinking “Queen and country”. I played sport at a good level all through my youth, and I wanted to extend that into a military environment as well, and I did, I did a lot of rugby and I loved every minute of it, and then you get to go away on tour and you’re like yeah, I want to go away, because you’re away and you earn a little bit of extra money and there’s the bonding, the camaraderie, and you think the worst thing you think your parents have to prepare for is you don’t come home. And that’s unthinkable, but for you to come home injured, no-one’s really thought about that. No-one’s prepared for it, so we don’t actually know what to do, even the people at work don’t have all the answers because they haven’t got injured and don’t have their experiences to draw on to help.
“So, the answers aren’t there, people just muddle through and try and help you as much as they can, and that’s what became hard, not just losing your career, losing your sporting life, losing your social groups of friends, everything, overnight.
“I didn’t get discharged out of the military overnight, it took a while for my medical discharge to come through because of my many surgical operations but overnight my life had changed, and it was just coming to understand that which was a real struggle for me. It just took time, and it took redirection, ok, that chapter has closed, and I need to move on, and for some people they find that moving on bit difficult and they go into isolation. And this is where Help for Heroes has been phenomenal, because the numbers that are getting medical discharge, it’s 7 a day, which is 50 a week, which is two and a half thousand a year, and where are they going?
“And we’re not reaching out to all of them, so it’s things like Invictus, things like Help for Heroes that put this on to the forefront of people’s minds, that might re-engage with that one individual that’s not coming out of his house, which is really important, because that person needs the help.
“I sort of dealt with my injury in my mind, and my time, but going around my team, 71 other people, and their stories just side-swipe me, they’re just horrific in different ways and also it’s amazing that they are here competing, and how they got to where they are today. We all know this is possible because of people caring, charities, the person putting the money in the pot on the street, we may not ever meet that person, but just that little bit of caring can make a massive change in that person’s life, and them going to Invictus is huge. It’s going to be a real gamechanger for a lot of my team.
“My incident was 18 years ago, and there’s not a period that goes by without me thinking about it and how it has changed my life, because I would have served my 22 years, I loved it, I never said I wanted to leave, I would only leave if I stopped enjoying it, and I enjoyed every single day.
“You don’t get paid the best, but you have the best laughs and that has huge value, and you listen to people’s mundane jobs in offices and you think I wouldn’t have done that, I never would have chosen that as an option because the military was always the right choice for me, but to have to change that, to lose that career was a really huge thing to overcome, and for some people, some people really struggle and don’t overcome it. I have to leave the military family and its camaraderie, and because I went to university and had to surround myself with lots of academic who were just absorbing information, and there’s me struggling like mad to try and get through, just to get the pass that I need. And I found that a real struggle, because I was forced into an education to start a new career a new life.
“Luckily for me, in that new life I found my wife, which is amazing, and that’s the best thing which has come out of me changing my job role, now I have a new family, I’ve got a 3 year old and I’ve got a 12 week old, so things are great, but even now I still look back and I think how much I’m missing the army.
“And we have that in discussion as a family, I would have loved to have been away for six months but wouldn’t have liked to have missed my family growing up, which must be a hell of a stress on a family, which is the commitment that soldiers give to their families, and to the country is phenomenal and people just don’t see that.
“Something I never thought of before, when seeing a parent pushing a pushchair, that the other parent could be away for six months and that is huge. My sister’s married a soldier and he’s been away for nine months and it was a huge struggle. With two children growing up, it’s not easy and I have massive respect for the military families.
“I’m doing cycling and rowing at Invictus. The cycling race is quite a busy thing, and in the race you don’t really have time to digest the crowd. You can hear it, but you won’t actually see it. But the rowing, when I walk out to that rowing machine and I look up, it won’t just be Jo I see, I’ll see a heap of Union Jacks, where everyone will be supporting, just screaming out for anyone that’s wearing our uniform and the Union Jack on our chest and that’s the main thing, and it will just be so emotional, just holding it together will be difficult and remember that moment.
“I’ve got a plan in my head of how I want the race to go, but it’s whether I can just hold it together, and whether the emotions completely mess me up, I don’t know, but on the day, what a day! Your family’s going to be there.
“The reason I’m doing it is for them because I want my daughter to see me doing it, with the Union Jack. It’s the silliest thing, but it’s huge. It’s life-changing.”
Jo Perkins’ story:
“We’re just enjoying the preparations for Australia, last few training camps for Dot, which we get to watch. As a family we’re getting banners ready for supporting him, and just enjoying the time with him, seeing how he’s growing through his captaincy.
“When I first met Dot, sport was something he’d thought had come and gone because he that couldn’t do the previous sports he was used. The competition I could tell was something he hugely missed, and he once thrived upon. Not having that in his life just made the injury an even bigger pain, and harder to stomach, but since he found the Invictus games, it’s given him that competitive edge again. This has changed the injury and accident from something that’s a huge negative where life would never be the same, he’d never be able to do competition again, huge survival guilt into something positive and a brighter future.
“It’s allowed him to be exposed to new sports that he wouldn’t have thought of previously, and having those sports has meant that he’s fitter, he’s healthier, he’s happier, so his physical pain is in turn better. His survivor guilt is less at the forefront if his mind and instead he feels that I’m going to do this for those who can’t, and he’s got that attitude now. And things that he feels now he can do with the kids, whereas before it was always, “I won’t be able to play rugby with my little boy”, or I can’t run around after Sienna, whereas now it’s “I can take Sienna out on the bike” and “it would be great if you could get into rowing,” and it’s very much more positive rather than “What can’t I do?” and that’s what Help for Heroes has given him and obviously it’s allowed us as a family to go over to Australia and see him compete which is just incredible, and we’re so proud of him, but I know he’s so proud knowing that we’re there and his kids particularly are there watching him.
“Help for Heroes has exposed him to all these events and allowed him to feel like a competitor again, not an injured person and it’s allowed him to feel like he’s an athlete, which is exactly what they all are. It’s perhaps not the path he thought he’d go down but he’s still an athlete and he’s thriving on it, it’s amazing to watch.
“He just is beaming with pride and it’s brought out character traits in him that he thought perhaps were gone and he’s motivating other people and supporting them, whether it’s winning or just getting to the start line, he’s thriving on pushing them to their limits, whatever that limit may be for that individual athlete and he’s just beaming from head to toe .
“Everyone’s overcome something different, everyone’s got a different story and whether it be mental or physical just that strength to get to that end goal. Determination, motivation and that desire to succeed and get the job done. For all of them it’s brilliant speaking to different people. I know one lady said, I just want to get to the pool, and if I’ve got to the pool that day I have succeeded and that shows a trait of her, because she’s been through so much. For Dot it’s knowing that he’s doing it for the people that he lost during his accident and that constant strength to achieve what they wanted to achieve on that day.”
Help for Heroes in Wales
Help for Heroes has a dedicated team in Wales, offering a holistic range of support to military personnel who have been affected by their service. Regular sports activities, modelmaking, one to one key workers and clinical liaison are among the services available through the Wales Community Support Office in Treforest.
For more information see: https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/get-support/how-to-access-our-services/recovery-in-wales/ call 01443 808 910 or email Wales.email@example.com
The six other Team GB representatives travelling to Sydney from Wales are:
Michael Matthews - Cardiff
Army veteran Michael Matthews, 31, was medically discharged in May 2015. The former Lance Corporal from Cardiff is using the 2018 Invictus Games to help him regain his purpose and sense of camaraderie. “Competing will re-establish a sense of belonging to a brotherhood and evoke the feeling of team spirit in which I had in the army prior to my injuries.” Since starting training for the Games, Michael has fully committed himself to recovery, and has started a wheelchair rugby club that he trains with on a weekly basis. Pride is also high on the list of priorities for Sydney. “I want the feeling that I am serving for my country once more, but in a sport that has helped my recovery. It will give me a great sense of pride to once again put on a uniform with a union jack and represent my country - and to inspire a generation to show what they think is impossible is actually possible.”
Lee Matthews - Caldicot
Former Airtrooper Lee Matthews grew up in Caldicot. The 29-year-old Army veteran has had a difficult year, but with the Invictus Games, he has been able to see that he can achieve again no matter how small his steps are. “The past year has been the hardest time of my life in terms of recovery. The deterioration of both my physical condition and my mental health resulted in my life tumbling out of control. I became hopeless, frustrated and angry.” While Sydney is his ultimate destination, Lee knows that Invictus is about the whole journey, not just the two-week-long Games in October: “The Invictus Games has helped me already. Although training camps have proved very challenging and have caused a lot of anxiety, the process has already helped me start to build confidence again and push back against my mental health. “I can’t wait to feel a part of something once again and be a part of a team, encouraging my teammates and my military family around me. To see them achieve and make them proud is just as important to me as giving back to those who have supported me. I have socialised, laughed, smiled and become more of myself than I could have ever imagined again.”
Alexandra McClellan – Gwynedd
Army veteran Alexandra McClellan suffered a stroke and was discharged in 2014. The former Sergeant, from Ffynnon Gynydd, credits Invictus training camps with reigniting her desire to succeed and her passion for sport. “Since the day my stroke happened I have never fitted anyone’s ‘criteria’. Over time I have become quite lonely, insular and disconnected with everyday emotion and motivation.” Alexandra, 39, has worked hard to overcome the pressures of starting training again, but has thrived in the inclusive atmosphere of the Invictus Games. “Sitting on that rowing machine at an Invictus training camp I spent the first day trying not to cry as it was so overwhelming. But, I felt passion and such a desire to push myself and beat my own goals that has been missing for so long. The Invictus environment is one where you feel everyone is included - it feels liberating. “I am learning how to build up my physical strength and am paying attention to how the camps make me feel mentally strong to help achieve the training. I aim to continue focusing on a challenge in the hope that I feel and look more like the old me again.”
Ryan Hewitt - Llandudno
Ryan Hewitt served in the British Army and was injured in 2010: “Following my injury I spent over three and a half years at DMRC Headley Court undergoing rehabilitation for injuries sustained on operations. As part of my recovery I participated in the Help for Heroes Portsmouth to Paris Bike Ride 2011, the Wounded Warrior Project Bike Ride USA 2011, and I attempted Team True Spirit Iron Man Event 2011 (Bolton). At that stage I felt my recovery was going well.” However, when the 26-year-old was medically discharged in 2013, he: “Became isolated, disengaged and unable to function normally. I stopped using my Prosthetic Legs and became wheelchair bound.” After attending an adaptive sports taster day and watching the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Ryan decided to join a local wheelchair basketball team: “This has given me confidence drive and passion – it has improved my overall mental health and well-being. I have been training to take part in the Invictus Games for nearly two years and having the ability to attend these games really will help my ongoing recovery.”
Jeff Robinson – Llantwit Major
Former Flight Sergeant Jeff Robinson, 49, lives in Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan. He was discharged from the RAF in 2010. “During my time serving I sustained a number of serious injuries. Each time, it took longer and more support to recover. Invictus Games 2018 gives me that continued support at every training session and match played; with the opportunity to not only help me in my recovery, but now to also be able to assist and mentor others who are just starting out on their recovery journey. I continue to use sport and physical activity as a major tool in my recovery. I also train on a weekly basis with the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby Club. Invictus has given me the confidence to return to work and study, having recently completed a NEBOSH course.”
Steve Sebburn - Brecon
Doctors told Army veteran Steve ‘Seb’ Sebburn that he would never run or cycle again as a result of back and brain injuries. But he refused to accept that diagnosis and proved them wrong when he competed at the Invictus Games 2017. The former Lance Corporal said competing at the Games gives him strength, focus and a sense of pride. He hopes it can inspire him to be fulfilled in his civilian job. “To see my family look at me in the team kit with such pride as they did when I wore the uniform just inspires me to try again. I have gained so much from the whole process and I know I will keep growing as a person, a veteran, a husband and a father through all Help for Heroes have invested in my family and I.”
The team of 72 competitors selected to represent the UK at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 is made up of wounded, injured and sick (WIS) serving military personnel and veterans.
More hopefuls than ever before, 451 WIS military personnel and veterans, trialled 11 sports for one of the 72 places available on Team UK. The trials were attended by HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, in one of their last joint appearances before the Royal Wedding.
The rigorous selection process for Team UK was based on the benefit the Invictus Games will give an individual as part of their recovery, combined with performance and commitment to training.
The 2018 UK Team Captain was also named this morning as Mark “Dot” Perkins, who takes over the mantel from 2017 Captain, Bernie Broad.
The team will compete in 11 sports: Athletics; Archery; Wheelchair Basketball; Cycling; Powerlifting; Indoor Rowing; Wheelchair Rugby; Swimming, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Tennis and a new sport for 2018, Sailing. They will continue to train from now until October in various locations across the country as part of Help for Heroes’ extensive Sports Recovery programme and role to train and develop the team.
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For more information and to request athlete interviews, please contact:
Rachel MacManus | Communications and Marketing Wales / Marchnata a Chyfathrebu Cymru| Help for Heroes
Landline telephone number 01443 808 910 ext. 6406| Mobile number 07483 044157| firstname.lastname@example.org
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