Veterans aim to defend their honour

Mey games team pic

The Mey Highland Games is the first in Scotland that has an adaptive element

29th July 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

A team of veterans and serving military will swap combat uniforms for kilts to defend their honour at the Mey Highland Games this weekend.

In 2018, the games became the first in Scotland to introduce an adaptive element, when Prince Charles, Chieftain of the Games, invited para athletes from Help for Heroes to take part. The forces charity team wowed the crowds, even breaking a world record, and were blown away by the special atmosphere and location of the games.

The Scottish Highland Games Association has since asked Help for Heroes to be involved in shaping policies to enable inclusivity at more Highland Games. Competitions that will be contested at the John O’ Groats showground on Saturday (3 August) include throwing and lifting events such as the shot put, tug-o-war, caber toss and hammer throw, as well as running and cycling.

The 40-strong Help for Heroes team travelling to Caithness this weekend includes Scots veteran and Help for Heroes ambassador David Dent, who uses a wheelchair after suffering two injuries while serving as a front-line trauma specialist with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

Dent, 52, from Law Village, Lanarkshire, was first injured in Bosnia in 1994 during a missile attack. He had shrapnel injuries to his back and torso but some years later it emerged he had also undergone a serious blast traumatic brain injury. He was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive disease found in people who have suffered a severe blast injury. David was further injured in Belfast while trying to extract a casualty from a dangerous situation.

 He has been supported in his sports recovery journey by Help for Heroes, who spent over £800,000 on recovery in Scotland last year. He competed at the 2015 Warrior Games, winning a bronze in discus, and took part in the 2017 Invictus Games Trials. He now competes nationally in para athletics in Scotland and is a member of Forth Valley Disability Sport.

Dent said: “Sport is massively important for my recovery. I am looking forward to the new challenge of trying adaptive Highland Games activities, showing disabled people’s abilities not their disabilities, and promoting the work of Help for Heroes through my role as an ambassador.”

At the first adaptive Highland Games in 2018, the Help for Heroes team competed against Uncle Sam’s Highlanders from America. Mark Airey, physical development coach at Help for Heroes, said the team had doubled in number after those who attended last year told fellow veterans and serving personnel what an enjoyable event it had been.

“They got so much out of it – the passion to try something new and train hard to do the best they could on the day, and the camaraderie not just within the team but with fellow competitors was second to none. All of that boosts confidence which is integral to their recovery,” he explained.

“And all in front of a great Scottish crowd who were so encouraging in their support. They were buzzing for a long time after the event so it came as no surprise when many of them signed up to go again, and encouraged others to join them.”

Charlie Murray, president of the Scottish Highland Games Association, said they were determined to make the Highland Games more inclusive to encourage more disabled athletes to take part.

“We realise that we have a long way to go and want Help for Heroes to be involved in shaping policy for our Highland Games of the future,” he said.

Murray spent two days at Help for Heroes’ Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick teaching a basic Highland Games safety and training course.

“I really enjoyed it. There was great sportsmanship and camaraderie - two qualities which are integral to the enduring popularity of the Highland Games,” he added.

A sculpture of an adaptive athlete with a prosthetic leg throwing the hammer has been created by Paul Cappleman, a veteran and art room volunteer at Phoenix House Recovery Centre. The Help for Heroes team is hoping to have an opportunity to present it to Prince Charles at the Mey Games in appreciation of his support.