Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Meet the inspiring members of the UK team heading to the Invictus Games in Sydney

  • Video report by ITV News Reporter Martha Fairlie

In the early morning sunshine on Horse Guards Parade, there is an excited buzz about the place as the first of the Invictus athletes start to arrive.

They are 72 wounded, injured and sick (WIS) veterans and service personnel, selected to wear the Team UK badge and compete in the Invictus Games this October in Sydney.

Over the past few months they've shared plenty of laughter, tears and pain, training together at camps and competing for places in the squad.

But this is the first time the whole team has assembled and have a chance to see who has made the cut.

Prince Harry founded the Invictus games in 2014. Credit: PA

Just getting this far has been a great personal achievement for each of the Invictus Team UK members.

Invictus has helped to rehabilitate and inspire thousands recovering from their own physical and mental injuries – some clear to see, others hidden from view.

The games have grown from the initial concept created by Prince Harry and which took place for the first time in London in 2014, into a huge international event involving military personnel and veterans from 18 nations.

In 2018, 451 hopeful athletes – a record number - applied for selection for Team UK.

ITV News has spoken to some of the athletes who have qualified for a coveted place on the squad:

  • Debbie O'Connell - Competing in Cycling and Track Athletics - Former Gunner, King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
Debbie O'Connell said training for the games had 'changed her life'. Credit: ITV News

Debbie O'Connell from Lincoln was discharged from the army in 2017.

She had been a Gunner with the King's Troop – riding the horses that pull gun carriages on ceremonial occasions, but a bad fall from a horse damaged her shoulder and paralysed part of her arm.

It brought her active lifestyle to a very sudden stop, but training for the Invictus Games has inspired her: "It's been hugely important, it's changed my life absolutely.

"When the injury happened, I thought my life was finished.

"I lost my identity and my ability, and this has picked me up and it's really forced me on and its proved to me that actually I am still worth something and I have still got some drive and the determination to do it."

Like more than half of the team, this will be Debbie's first Invictus Games, and she's been taking advice from some of the more experienced athletes on how to get the most out of the experience.

While Debbie says she'd love to bring back some medals, she hopes she'll return from Sydney with new friends, comrades and the feeling that she's achieved something.

"The most important thing is just to enjoy the experience, enjoy the team spirit, and use it as a step up on your recovery."

  • Michael Mellon - Competing in Wheelchair basketball, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Basketball, possibly tennis -Former Senior Aircraftsman, RAF Regiment
Michael Mellon said the Invictus Games brought back the camaraderie of the armed forces. Credit: ITV News

Michael Mellon was discharged from the RAF in 2005, four years after breaking his leg while playing rugby in 2001, suffering nerve damage and complications as a result.

In 2013 he made the difficult decision to have his leg amputated below the knee after being left in "pain all the time with my lower leg".

"It actually took me two years to make the decision.

"It was the hardest decision of my life because I might not have been able to wear a prosthetic, so I would have been wheelchair bound."

After the operation he decided to try to get fit and set himself the goal of competing in the Invictus Games, taking part for the first time in Toronto last year, which he described as "absolutely amazing".

However, Michael said his main reason for getting involved was to "see the lads again.

"That was the biggest thing I missed from leaving the forces, was having a laugh with the lads every day...

"It's a bonus to get selected and go to the different countries and compete with the different nations."

  • Mark 'Dot' Perkins, Captain of Team UK - Competing in Cycling, Rowing and Captain of Team UK - Former Corporal, Royal Signals
Mark 'Dot' Perkins says the atmosphere at the Invictus Games is 'amazing'. Credit: ITV News

"There's nothing more inspiring than to stand beside the next person and go 'we're here, we've done it," says Mark 'Dot' Perkins.

He was badly injured in a vehicle accident in Kenya and medically discharged from the army in 2001.

He retrained as a physiotherapist and now helps to rehabilitate injured soldiers.

After competing in Toronto last year, he's coming back this time as Captain of Team UK.

But it was one of his own patients who got him into the games.

"One of my injured soldiers did very well in London and Orland and I sat there watching, and I thought why aren't I doing that?

"Why don't I get try and get on the bike?

"So, I helped him and now he's motivated me to do it back - watching him inspired me."

Sport had been everything to him while he was serving and when he was injured he says he went into what he calls a "dark place" and didn't want to think about sport.

But through cycling he found a sport he could do with his injuries, and wich also gave him time to think on his own.

And he says the atmosphere at Invictus is amazing.

"Last year I hit my goals by competing and trying to keep up with the youngsters, but I really enjoyed the cheering on and it's the person who comes over the line last who gets the biggest cheer and that makes you well up every time.

"It's constantly overwhelming the cameraderie from worldwide military people."

  • Jennifer Collins - Competing in Archery and Rowing - Former Flight Lieutenant, RAF Logistics Officer
Jennifer Collins said she was 'shocked' to have been selected for the team. Credit: ITV News

Jennifer Collins knew she only had a one in eight chance of getting a place on the Invictus team, so was shocked when she found out she'd been picked.

Going to Sydney with Team UK will be a very different experience for the former RAF Logistics Officer compared to her last trip to Australia 10 years ago – then it was a work trip all about helicopter refueling.

This time, she'll be competing in Archery and Rowing.

Jennifer says Invictus has made a huge difference to her and her family after she began to suffer with mental health issues which "destroyed how I interacted with people, my friends and my family", but since taking part in Invictus "the old Jenny is starting to coming back - the laughing Jenny, the happy Jenny the belligerent, pig-headed Jenny that didn't want to give up.

"And it's been brilliant I've started to do things with my kids again, my husband's got his wife back and we're getting there as a family so it's brilliant."

And winning a place has given her even more motivation to work through her mental health issues.

"I am very lucky I've got to get the children out of bed to school every morning, but the temptation is to just go straight back to bed and shut the world out.

"But with Invictus even if it's something little, even if it's just 'right I'm going to go for a walk', you've got that goal in the constant fog.

"You've got that goal to keep striving towards and you've got the fact that many others didn't make it into the team...

"You've got to make them proud.

"So you can't lie in bed, you've got to give it your all, because it's only fair on all the people who didn't get to come."

  • Mark Ormrod - Competing in Rowing, Swimming, Shot Putt and Discus - Former Royal Marines Commando
Mark Ormrod is taking part in different sports to the ones he competed in last year. Credit: ITV News

Mark Ormrod lost both legs and an arm when he stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan in 2007.

As part of his recovery, he took part in the Invictus Games last year, both swimming and rowing.

This year he's taking on two completely new disciplines – the Shot Putt and Discus.

"They're going to be challenging.

"The first time I ever touched a shot putt or discus was at the trials...

"I just love to learn new things and test out what works best and just go with that."

Mark says one of best things about Invictus is being back in a military environment with the banter that goes with it.

Even though they're competing against each other, everyone is cheering each other on, he says, adding that the support from people outside the military world also makes a big difference.

"There's a massive, massive amount of support as well from the civilian community and it's really nice to see.

"This process now from here, training to competing, can be quite a rollercoaster but when you jump on social media and you see all the positive messages and all the supportive messages coming in – it really helps to boost you and drag you out and and kick you up the butt and get you back on track."

Reflecting on how the Invictus Games has grown since Prince Harry first made the idea a reality in London in 2014, Mark said he didn't know if the royal "truly understands how much good he's done.

"But if you just ask any of the team members, either here or from previous events, this Games has had a profound impact on their life positively.

"It's really helped people to move forward and I guess we can't thank him enough for that."