Heroes of the third Veteran Games returned to the UK this week with tales of “miracles” after a week of building confidence, enhancing family bonds and making lifelong friends.
Sixty-two wounded veterans returned from the event in Israel where they competed in swimming, X-fit and shooting against each other and their Israeli counterparts. The spectacle – organised by Beit Halochem UK and supported by communal philanthropists – also involved the families who are often key to rehabilitation.
“Words can’t give the week the true justice it deserves,” said Stacey Mitchell, who served in the RAF, reflecting the views of many. “It has been nothing short of breathtaking, motivational and spectacular. No matter how big the next mountain feels, I now know that I can achieve anything. I didn’t see disabilities, merely people achieving so much. Now you are all home you can all still achieve so much.”
The 29-year-old – who had part of her leg amputated following an overuse injury – said: “The beautiful country of Israel, the people, culture, and most of all the newfound friendships made with the Beit Halochem Veterans will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope the Veteran Games continues to impact many more veterans over the coming years. Thank you for creating miracles.”
Others spoke of how the country they toured – including the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – was the “complete opposite” of the impression they garnered from the media.
Former Royal Marine Tim Crossin – who is suffering from terminal cancer – was given the green light by his doctor to join so long as he didn’t take part in certain sports. “I’m filled with pride to have been part of something so special and inspirational and honoured to have met and befriended such positive amazing people. Tomorrow is not a guarantee for anyone so live every day to the full. I hope to see you all again.”
Mark Strachan, who lost his sight in Iraq in 2003 and broke almost every bone in his chest and back, was diagnosed with PTSD 14 years later. He struggles with leaving the house due to anxiety but, having gained the vision in one eye, pushed himself to attend the Games.
After hearing about the suffering of both the UK and Israeli vets at the opening ceremony, however, he broke down in tears. “But I was comforted by total strangers there that night and that changed me within as from day four I took myself away from the group at the beach and back to the hotel, had a shower and hit the market and art galleries of Tel Aviv and got out there to speak to the locals. It was amazing. I just wished my wife and children could have had the opportunity to have seen it themselves.”
The Games were attended by Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, who stressed the centrality of sport in recovery. He said: “When I came back from my third tour in Afghanistan, I struggled to adjust to normal life. It was running up the Cornish moors, swimming in the river and walking to the local pubs that helped. You should all be proud of your incredible strength and achievements. Please do share your experience at the Veterans Games with others, it is so important that we promote sport for what it can be – not only a vehicle to recovery but a way to come together as a community, to support each other and cheer others on.”
Without the need for qualification or reachjng a certain sporting standard, each of the veterans were chosen by the following charities based solely on whether it was thought they and their families would benefit from the experience: Rock2Recovery, BLESMA, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, The Not Forgotten Association, The Royal Marines Charity, The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, Veterans Scotland, Poppy Scotland. FELIX Fund and Blind Veterans UK.
The Games’ main sponsors are the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust, Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, Exilarch’s Foundation, Rachel Charitable Trust, Pears Foundation, Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation, Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation, Regatta Professional and the Future Directions Foundation. A football academy for the kids of participants is backed by Patron Charitable Initiatives and Power League.
• Editorial comment, page 20
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