18 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans took part in the US Air Force Trials this month to help rebuild their lives through sport. Anna Boggi, part of the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery team, recalls the trials.
“We met at London Gatwick Airport on Monday 20 February. No one had been on an overseas trip before so there was a mixture of excited and nervous faces.
“The first few days saw us go through our arrival and welcome brief, classification and lots of training and equipment fitting sessions. On the Friday, we all attended the Opening Ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base. The UK team was led in by David Longmore, who carried the UK flag and led us across the field to our chairs where we all sang the National Anthem. Matt Esders carried the Torch and proudly handed it over to the Air Force to light the cauldron, marking the start of the games.
“That morning, the UK team led the Rowing Expo. WO1 Kev Haley and Sgt Steven Alman took the reins and delivered a very exciting and fun hour of rowing. The Australian team then led the team through ‘Aussie Rules WC Football’ where a few of the UK team got involved and played.
“Saturday Morning, we went to Red Horse at Nellis to start the Cycling competition. This was an amazing start to the games and we came away with 5 medals. Everyone was cheering and supporting not just their UK team mates but all the Wounded Warriors. Amy Barker started the medal haul with the first Gold medal in the 6.0 category.
“Sunday saw the Swimming competition and we scooped an amazing 13 medals – the UK had made their stamp on the USAFT and there were some very happy faces. One of the UK team said `I haven’t smiled like this for years, I am smiling and I can’t stop, I am smiling not just for me but for other people’s triumphs’.
“On Monday morning we went onto the Archery Finals, this was a very tense time and everyone looked on in silence as we picked up another 4 medals! WO2 Andrew Johnstone took home Gold in both the Open and the Team Event. That afternoon we went onto the Rowing Competition and we took home another 4 medals, the atmosphere in the Gym hall was electric and most of us went home without a voice from the cheering and screaming that afternoon. Mac McPherson took Gold in the 1-minute row and a deserved Silver in the 4-minute row.
“Tuesday morning came around very quickly for the Track and Field events. Two medals for Track and 3 for Field saw for a very good day of competition. On Wednesday morning, the team went off to the Shooting finals and we saw 2 medals in the Pistol shooting with Matt Esders taking home Gold and SAC Liam Houghton taking a Silver.
“Thursday was our last day of competition and it was time for the Sitting Volleyball team to take the stage. Coach Charlie Walker had worked with them over the time we had been there to introduce them to the game, teach the rules and learn the technique needed.
We won all our prelim matches and semi-final to reach the final. It was very tense and nerve wracking, the scores were so close but then we took our final serve and won our match. Team UK had won the Gold in the Sitting Volleyball and this meant that every team member would be going home with a medal around their neck.
“We had the closing ceremony that evening. The guys all came with their medals around their necks and they looked so proud. There was one special award – The Sportsmanship Honour Award – which was awarded to SAC Liam Houghton.
“Friendships had been made, lives had been lived, memories had been created and most of all, everyone was going home with a smile. Gone were the worried and nervous faces we saw 2 weeks before.”