A team of wounded and injured veterans and Serving personnel, supported by Help for Heroes, will be creating history this weekend when they take part in Scotland’s first ever Para Highland Games.
A dozen men and women from all over the UK are donning kilts and cleaning their cabers in readiness for the Mey Highland Games in John O’ Groats on Saturday (August 4), where they will compete against other para-athletes from as far away as America and Australia.
The Mey Games, the smallest of Scotland’s Highland Games and first held to commemorate the late Queen Mother’s 70th birthday, is run by the Wick, Canisbay and Latheron branch of Legion Scotland, in aid of the local community of former and serving members of the armed and emergency services.
HRH Prince Charles is Chieftain of the Games and, like his grandmother before him, is a regular attendee. Having enjoyed the success of the Invictus Games, created by his son Prince Harry, the Duke of Rothesay (as he is also known), invited Help for Heroes to enter a team into specially adapted classes of the traditional track and field sports. It’s the first time that disabled competitors have been included within a traditional Highland Games in Scotland.
Among the events in which they are able to participate are heavy ones such as hammer throwing, tossing the caber and the shot, plus lighter ones like tug of war and highland dancing.
Mark Airey, Physical Development Coach with Help for Heroes, said being invited to take part was a real honour for the Charity.
“Help for Heroes is the leader in para-sport for wounded veterans, so we are delighted to support Scotland’s first adaptive Highland Games,” he said.
“We hope the success of this milestone event will encourage other Games organisers to follow suit in the future as we know how integral sport is to the recovery of so many of those we support.
“Not all are aspiring Paralympians but they just enjoy physical exercise and friendly competition and the Highland Games is perfect for them.”
Members of the Help for Heroes team got their first experience of exactly what a Highland Games involves when they went to watch one being held last month by 4 Scots Regiment at its base in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.
And when he learned that one team was a member short, Captain Dave Williams was quick to volunteer to take his place! Capt Williams is in the process of being medically discharged from the army after being diagnosed with a pre-existing mental health condition that was exacerbated by his experiences while serving in Afghanistan. His maternal grandparents are Scots and, ever since he heard about the Highland Games as a child, he has wanted to join in one.
“It’s a part of my heritage that I’ve always wanted to delve into more deeply. It’s awesome having so many rich traditions forming British history,” he said.
So keen to enter into the spirit of his ancestors, Capt Williams, who lives in Swansea, approached a local tartan company which made him a Welsh cilt, and had his legs waxed to raise money for Help for Heroes. So far, he has collected almost £600 from sponsors.
Another member of the Help for Heroes team is veteran Simon Flores from Manchester. He has a prosthetic lower left limb after losing his foot in an explosion in Iraq in 2006.
“Keeping fit is important to me and I try to go to the gym every day,” he said. “I signed up for the Mey Highland Games to challenge myself and to inspire those with similar injuries by showing that, even though I only have one leg, I can still move forward and achieve goals.”
Also competing are Invictus Games veterans from Australia and the USA, including Alex “The Tank” Armor, a 19-stone US army veteran who holds the world record for wheelchair caber tossing. He uses an electric wheelchair resembling a tank with military-style caterpillar treads.
Capt Richard Otley, Chairman of the local Royal British Legion Scotland branch and organiser of the Games, said they were delighted to have so many para-athletes taking part this year from around the globe, adding:
“We want to build on our unique Highland Games adaptive principles to ensure a unique, diverse and sustainable future for both able and adaptive athletes participating from both the veteran, military and local communities.”
Last year, the Games attracted 1500 visitors but the organisers hope to welcome up to twice as many this weekend.
The event kicks off at 11 am on Saturday at the John o’ Groats showground and, as well as the sports, includes Highland dancing competitions, pipe and drum bands, dog show and live music, as well as various exhibitions, local art, crafts and food stalls.
For more information, visit the Mey Games Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MeyGames