More wounded, injured and sick veterans and service personnel will now be able to take up wheelchair sports – thanks to a £7,000 donation of 12 multi-sport wheelchairs.
The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, a charitable body dedicated to helping people with mobility issues, gave the chairs to Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire.
Members of the group, which has 230 members, visited the Centre to see the chairs in action and to understand the impact of their support. They even had a game of wheelchair basketball with veterans and serving military personnel.
For veteran Paul Nichol the impact of the donation is huge.
An Army medic, his career was cut short after he was struck down with a debilitating back syndrome called Cauda Equina. During a training course in 2010, he collapsed suddenly, paralysed from the waist down. He had an emergency operation and was told his chances of walking were slim to none. He spent three years being treated at Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Unit, and gradually learnt to walk again.
After several operations, he can now walk, often using a stick and still uses a wheelchair at times. He was medically discharged in April, 2013, and has been supported by Help for Heroes and Phoenix House throughout the process.
He said: “A normal wheelchair tips back and doesn’t have enough manoeuvrability or speed to use for sport.
“The multisport ones donated by the Wheelwrights have angled wheels so that you can turn corners suddenly and quickly, and also move fast across the court. They also come in different heights and with various widths to accommodate different size players.
“Wheelchair basketball is a good introduction to sport for those who thought their injuries prevented them from taking part in such activities. It has really helped my physical and mental health. It gives you self-confidence and belief that you can do it and something to aim for in wanting to improve your skills.”
Until Phoenix House received the donated chairs, the beneficiaries could only play wheelchair basketball when coaches from the Newcastle Falcons could come down with their own equipment to run a session.
Now sessions can be held on a more regular basis which, for Paul, means he will be able to earn his Level 2 coaching qualification a lot sooner.
“I got my level 1 but you need to have a lot of hours of experience to pass Level 2 and, without these chairs, that would have taken a long time!” he said.
The Wheelwrights is dedicated to keeping the skill of wheel making alive, although today primarily focuses on fundraising. The company has been a long-term supporter of Help for Heroes and since 2009, has donated about £150,000 to the charity in the form of grants to individuals and sports teams. It has helped 160 individuals, some of whom have gone on to Paralympic success in 2012.
Ian Armfield, the Master of The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, said the group was delighted to see the multisport wheelchairs in action.
“We joined in a game of basketball too,” he said. “It’s very fast and very difficult to manoeuvre the chair. They are really quick and you need to make sure you keep your balance. It’s very difficult catching a ball while you are in a wheelchair. It was great fun.
“The good thing about providing the wheelchairs to a Recovery Centre is that many, many people will have the opportunity to use them while they are here and, if it is a sport that appeals to them, take it further.”
Mo Usman, Head of Recovery North at Phoenix House, said the donation of the chairs was a real asset for Phoenix House.
He said: “It means we will be able to play a lot more wheelchair sports with our veterans and serving personnel. We are so thankful to the Wheelwrights for their tremendous support.
“Taking part in sport gives the wounded and sick new-found self-belief in their abilities, rather than focusing on their disabilities. Getting involved in sport or team events can rebuild confidence.”