L-R: Kevin Kell, Luke Reeson and Chris Walker
Two injured soldiers and a wounded veteran from Cumbria – two of them from the same town – have been chosen to represent the UK at the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.
They are Army Sergeant Kevin Kell, prospective Commonwealth Games athlete Luke Reeson and double amputee Charlie Wilson.
Kevin Kell has been in the army since 1995. As well as having a traumatic brain injury, psychological illness and a hearing impairment, he has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, which is still growing, and will therefore affect his peripheral vision and potentially cause other impairments.
Kevin, who lives in Dalton on Furness, also lost his wife to cancer last year. Training for the golf tournament at the Invictus Games offers him a release of emotions, relieves stress and the chance to play simply himself against a ball without worrying about the wider world.
He hopes the Games will provide him with the opportunity to socialise with others who have been in a similar situation and thus help him become more confident in social situations as he tries to reintegrate back into wider society. He also hopes to inspire his young daughter as she grows up.
“I want her to know that, no matter what life throws about you, you can rise above it,” he said.
Also from Dalton in Furness is Charlie Walker who will compete in the Invictus Games for the third time as a member of the Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby teams, as well as coaching the Sitting Volleyball team.
The former pupil of Dalton St Marys C of E Primary, Dowdales Senior School and Barrow Sixth Form College had both his legs amputated and credit sport as being a vital part of his recovery process.
“It gives me a sense of purpose, a reason to set new higher goals: it keeps me physically fit and mentally strong,” said Charlie.
“The other reasons are harder to quantify but being selected lets me know that I haven’t been forgotten and gives me a chance to be with a military team again. Having competed and coached before, I believe I can help others achieve their goals.”
Charlie now lives in Retford but his parents still live in Dalton and, in recognition of the support given to him by Help for Heroes, mum Edith and dad Charles, who served with the Royal Signals for 25 years, are now active volunteers for the Charity in Cumbria.
Corporal Luke Reeson suffered gunshot wounds to both legs whilst serving on operations with the Army. He struggles with muscle loss and nerve damage in both legs on a daily basis as well as having permanent fractures in both major bones in his left leg which makes walking challenging.
His speed in the swimming pool, however, often leaves competitors lagging behind. The 2014 Invictus Games gave him his first taste of competitive sport and he has since been making waves on the international stage. His aim is to be selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
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Luke, from Cockermouth, said his recovery journey had been long and challenging.
“One of the only things that has got me through it, and which continues to give me hope and something to strive for, is sport. The Invictus Games gives me an opportunity to meet other soldiers and veterans who are early on in their personal recovery and, through my own experiences, help them.”
Another Invictus Games athlete with Cumbrian connections is Jen Warren, whose parents live in Egremont. Jen, who lives in Warwickshire, will participate in athletics, cycling and swimming.
Last week, at a special ceremony at the Tower of London, Prince Harry, Patron of the Invictus Games Foundation, met the team of 90 wounded, injured and sick (WIS) serving military personnel and veterans.
They were selected from more than 300 military personnel and veterans who attended trials in a total of 11 sports in the hope of making the team. The rigorous selection process was based on the benefit the Invictus Games will give an individual as part of their recovery, combined with performance and commitment to training.
Medals will be competed for in Athletics; Archery; Wheelchair Basketball; Cycling; Powerlifting; Indoor Rowing; Wheelchair Rugby; Swimming, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Tennis and, new for 2017, Golf.
The 2017 UK Team Captain has been named as former Army Major Bernie Broad, who takes over the mantel from 2016 Captain, David Wiseman from York.
Bernie lost both his legs below the knee due to injuries sustained in an explosion in Helmand Province in 2009. He underwent four years of extensive surgery and rehabilitation followed by two years of assistance from the Personnel Recovery Unit at Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell.
He said: “Since being medically retired from the Armed Forces in 2014, I feel that I have taken my foot off the gas and become quite complacent. I have always been a keen and competitive sportsman, so I kick started my fitness regime and now regularly swim, cycle and walk. I am looking forward to taking part in the Invictus Games as I see this involvement as a way to re-focus me physically and mentally and to re-engage in a full, active, competitive and fulfilling life.”
On being chosen as UK Team Captain, he added: “The Invictus Games are empowering and inspire all of us as competitors to be the best version of ourselves. It allows us to be judged on what we can achieve, rather than what we can’t. To simply be selected for the UK Team was an amazing achievement. To then be further selected as the UK Team Captain filled me with such immense pride and it is a huge privilege to be given this honour. I definitely stood taller and my chest expanded quite a bit!”
The team will continue to train in various locations across the country as part of Help for Heroes’ extensive Sports Recovery programme and role to train and develop the team.
Over 60% of this year’s team are new to the Invictus Games and were spurred on to apply off the back of the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014, the success of the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando and the day-to-day sports recovery activities that take place at the Charity’s four Recovery Centres, including Phoenix House in Catterick, North Yorkshire.
Jayne Kavanagh, of Help for Heroes and Chef de Mission for the UK Team, said: “With more hopefuls than ever before applying to be a part of the Invictus Games in Toronto, and with more than 60% of the 2017 UK Team being brand new to the Games, it is evident that the legacy of 2014 and 2016 is strong. In the UK team, we have 90 individuals who have displayed high levels of passion, teamwork and commitment to using sport as a tool of recovery both during and beyond the Invictus Games. We are very proud to be working alongside them and wish them the best of luck as they embark on their Invictus Games journeys.”
The Royal British Legion will be supporting the friends and family, including carers, of the UK team as part of its work to recognise the vital and valuable contribution that they make to the recovery of WIS Service personnel and veterans.
Jaguar Land Rover is proud to support the UK team and are presenting partners of the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.
The Endeavour Fund, a programme led by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry which supports WIS Service personnel and veterans using sport and adventurous challenges as part of their recovery and rehabilitation, is once again supporting the UK team. It has provided £50,000 funding to support the 2017 UK team.
The Invictus Games Toronto 2017 will take place from 23 – 30 September. To find out more, go to www.invictusgames2017.com