The war in Afghanistan took its toll on British forces: more than 15,000 troops were wounded, injured or made sick during Service and many were left with life changing injuries. For some, sport has been key to their recovery and taken them on a journey to represent the UK at the 2016 Invictus Games.
For our UK team athletes Craig, Lamin and Steven, theirs and their families’ lives changed dramatically when each of them were injured in IED attacks while on tour in Afghanistan. The former soldiers suddenly found their lives permanently altered by their injuries and had to find ways to adapt.
For each of them, sport and family were key in helping them get to grips with their new way of life.
CRAIG - CYCLING
Craig Preece served in the British Army for five years with the Royal Engineers and always had a passion for fitness. He ran professionally and dreamt of becoming an instructor in the Physical Training Corps.
But this all changed when, in 2010 his vehicle was hit by an IED and he had to have his right leg amputated. As a result, he was medically discharged from the army.
Craig competing in a cycling race
With professional running no longer possible, Craig had to find a new passion. At home in Derbyshire, his wife, Allison, and their two young sons, Finn and Dillon, joined him in getting into cycling. The sport is now a huge part of their family’s life and something they all do together.
Allison said "Our youngest son doesn’t remember Craig ever having two legs. Finn does, but it’s never been an issue. Our house is full of bikes and cycling really has brought us all closer together."
Craig Preece and his wife Allison, with one of his gold medals from the 2014 Invictus Games
Orlando will be Craig's second Invictus Games. He won two gold medals at the 2014 games for cycling. His sons have been heavily inspired by their father and both now regularly compete in cycling challenges.
“It’s great to go out to Orlando as a family - we can’t wait to support Craig.”Craig's wife, Allison Preece
LAMIN - VOLLEYBALL AND ARCHERY
Lamin Manneh was injured in a similar attack to Craig, and in the same year. He had moved with his family from Gambia to Manchester four years earlier and followed his dream to join the British Army, enlisting with the Irish Guards. As a result of the attack, Lamin is now a triple amputee.
Lamin with his wife Binta and their children
Lamin relies on the huge amount of support he gets from his wife, Binta, and their five children, aged between two and 12. It has really helped him adjust to his new way of life.
Lamin has taken up sitting volleyball and archery, saying that sport enables him to express himself and will compete in both these sports at this year’s Invictus Games.
"It’s a such a big thing for the whole family – we’re all talking about it every day and the kids are telling everyone at school," said Binta.
“It’s really exciting and we’re counting down the days.”Lamin's wife, Binta Manneh
STEVEN - WHEELCHAIR RUGBY
Former army soldier Steven was also injured in an IED attack. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, had to have his left leg amputated and his right foot reconstructed after the vehicle he was travelling in hit an IED while on tour in Afghanistan in 2012.
After leaving the army, Steven went through tough times: he would spend his days alone at home in Birmingham. His childhood sweetheart and fiancée, Amy, was at work, as were all his friends. He had no drive.
Steven training for wheelchair rugby
Passionate about sport before his injury, Steven knew he wanted to get involved when he saw the 2014 Invictus Games. After a friend introduced him to wheelchair rugby, he knew it was a possibility and it gave him a target to aim for.
“Steven’s injury and recovery process was a rollercoaster of emotions and there were times when I felt like I’d lost him, but ever since he’s got into wheelchair rugby he’s had such a boost and it’s so good to have my Steven back.”Amy Mills, fiancée of Steven
Steven with his fiancée, Amy
Amy and the couple’s two children will join Steven in Orlando, alongside Amy’s parents, to cheer him on.
“The kids keep saying ‘Daddy’s going to be on TV!’ They are so excited,” said Amy.
Steven, Craig and Lamin fly out to Orlando on Wednesday 4 May with the rest of the UK team. Family and friends will join them the following Friday, in time to support their loved ones when the Invictus Games open on Sunday 8 May. Follow their progress at invictusgames2016.org
THE TEAM BEHIND THE TEAM
The Royal British Legion is supporting the family and friends of the UK team – the ‘team behind the team’ – to recognise the vital and valuable contribution that they make to the recovery of wounded, injured or sick Service personnel and veterans.
The Legion has arranged travel, accommodation and tickets to make sure all the UK athletes can enjoy the support of their loved ones. We are also providing support and pastoral care in the run up to the games and in Orlando during the event.
Supporting the Invictus Games is just part of the Legion's programme of recovery activities for wounded, injured and sick serving personnel and veterans which includes the Battle Back Centre and Recovery & Wellbeing through the Arts.