Battle Back: Giving wounded troops a sporting chance
25 September 2012
Martin Colclough, head of sports recovery at Help for Heroes, tells DefenceManagement.com how the legacy of the 2012 Paralympic Games could help the recovery of wounded personnel in future
The spectacle of this year's Paralympic and Olympic Games in London had a profound effect on Britain's national psyche, but with the temporary high of the events themselves now fading for many, there remains a group of individuals for whom the 'legacy' of the 2012 games has only just begun.
Eight British athletes taking part in the Paralympic Games this year were supported by Battle Back, an MoD scheme which is organised and run jointly with the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes. Battle Back is designed to help rehabilitate wounded service personnel by getting them involved in adventure training and sports, from a purely recreational level right up to elite athletics.
Beijing's Paralympic stage in 2008, the year Battle Back was formed, came too soon for the organisation to send a cohort. London 2012 not only saw a well-established Battle Back boost former and serving military personnel into the limelight, it also saw the organisation developing a further 13 personnel in preparation for future Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
Former British Army officer Martin Colclough, head of sports recovery at Help for Heroes, has had a hand in this year's Paralympic preparations and the on-going work to develop elite athletes for future events. Seeing other athletes compete, says Colclough, particularly those with a service background, gives personnel going through recovery and rehabilitation something to aim for.
"Many of those competing in London were themselves inspired by watching great athletic performances by British athletes in Beijing," he says, "so you can only begin to imagine the effect of seeing servicemen compete on other servicemen when they were so inspired by people they perhaps didn't necessarily directly relate to in the same way."
Even for those personnel who are not ready or willing to make the commitment to elite training programmes, there are many benefits to taking part in sports, he says.
"There's the physical development side: getting fitter, staying fitter, being healthier," says Colclough. "There's then, on the psychological front, looking at helping to improve mood – just at a very low level, along with self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth.
"Then there's a social dynamic as well. Some people during their recovery can become quite withdrawn and it helps get people back into an environment when they feel they can be part of a team again – because they come from a team environment. Having a shared experience, taking on a new challenge, very much locks into the military psyche.
"All those things combined – the physical, psychological and the social - have a sort of 'force multiplying' effect in terms of acceptance with your injury or - in terms of psychological injuries - helping you to come through that and get to a point where your mental health is significantly improved.
Despite the recent focus on Paralympic events and elite sports, Battle Back is helping injured personnel almost every day of the year, Colclough says, and there are very few limits on who can take part, or at what stage of their recovery.
"You can get back into sport at any stage of your recovery including during your rehabilitation at Headley Court," he says. "So for some, who feel they're ready, they will be taking part in lots of supported sports and other challenging recreational activities. Some of those will be still going through their rehabilitation and some will have gone beyond that and will be the kind of cohort you're now seeing at the recovery centres around the UK.
"Then there are the returning veterans as well. Some veterans may not have felt they were ready to get back onto the field of play while they were still serving and are coming back to sport when they've put the other aspects of their life together like relationships, housing and finance."
Regardless of who is involved, it is clear that the 2012 games provide an opportunity for Battle Back to increase its support for injured service personnel. The ideal legacy of the 2012 games, Colclough says, will be "more people doing more sport, more often, at a level that's appropriate for them and that they feel they are getting some benefit from."
"There are two things we need to be prepared for," he adds. "One is to maintain the momentum in the programme generally that will be generated through the games, and the other is to provide pathways into elite sport for those who aspire to be champions of the future.
"Even during the games we're looking forward with that next cohort to the next two – one winter, one summer –Paralympic games. So really we were looking over the horizon, beyond the games, before the games even started."