As part of their treatment, severely injured troops from the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court have crewed a boat at this year's Cowes Week, the sailing regatta around the Isle of Wight.
The boat, called ‘British Soldier’, operated by the charity ‘Toe in the Water’, is now in its third season. It was launched to give military personnel recovering from injuries at Headley Court the opportunity to accelerate the rehabilitation process by competitive race sailing.
Team doctor and medical co-ordinator for the charity, Major Tom Wood of the Royal Army Medical Corps, put it simply as ‘rehabilitation by stealth’.
The focus and sense of inter-dependability that being part of the crew involves often means that those taking part are oblivious to the physical exertion they are under.
Tanya Brookfield, the charity’s director and one of the founders, explained:
We are not about disabled sailing; you won’t find us using specially adapted boats or anything like that. It’s all about putting these people up against able-bodied crews in a highly competitive race sailing environment.
During Cowes Week seven of the 22-man squad were from Headley Court, with injuries ranging from shattered hands and missing calf muscles to amputated limbs.
Tanya Brookfield explained that the rolling motion of the sea can often help Service personnel that would otherwise struggle with their balance on terra firma.
29-year-old Clifford O’Farrell of the Household Cavalry Regiment, who suffered a catalogue of damage to his body as a result of an IED back in November last year, said:
It’s fantastic just being part of the lads again. It doesn’t seem as though you are working hard, but you sure feel it afterwards.
Most of the injured personnel volunteer themselves to take part. However, some are ‘press-ganged’ into service by their Headley Court physiotherapists, such is the benefit to their rehabilitation.
With tears of joy at her sense of achievement rolling down her cheeks, Army nurse, Corporal Plaxcedes Morrison, aged 29 from Portsmouth’s Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit, said:
I’ve never felt this positive before in my life, I am now concentrating on what I can do and not what I can’t.
Corporal Morrison suffered nerve damage to her left leg following a fall during training - not all injuries are as a result of operational combat. She also enjoyed a day’s sailing with Dee Caffari, the only woman to have circumnavigated the globe single-handed in both directions.
Private Dean Caudley, aged 26 from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, lost his left leg to an IED in October last year. Pumping up his biceps he proudly announced:
My ‘guns’ have certainly got a lot bigger this last week.
The burly soldier from Derby was referring to the work he had to put in on the yacht’s winches. It should however put him in good stead as he intends to be the first amputee to row around the British Isles raising money to keep ‘Toe in the Water’ afloat.