Using the Invictus spirit to inspire others
Alex was injured in 2005 in a road traffic accident whilst on duty. He sustained a spinal injury resulting in him having no movement or sensation below the line of his nipples and is now a full time wheelchair user. His life is based around sport and fitness and in May last year Alex took part in the Invictus Games Orlando 2016. Training for the Games gave him focus and purpose and for someone with Alex’s level of injury, sport is key to keeping a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
In 2016, Alex was selected to take part in the 3 Pillars Project, which works within the criminal justice system to provide positive role models for effective rehabilitation.
We caught up with Alex recently on what he’s been up to…
What was it like taking part in the Invictus Games Orlando 2016?
The Orlando Games 2016 was bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. The opportunity to compete in an international event with such prestige is something I will never forget. As part of the UK team, I felt honoured to be representing our country. The team spirit was infectious and it was great to feel such comradeship again. Witnessing amazing moments in each event, and seeing people push themselves to the limit to succeed was humbling and inspiring. The Invictus spirit was clear to see in the relationship between the teams as rivalry and competitiveness were matched by support and respect for each other.
Personally, I saw a change in myself both in preparation and during the Games. I found a new level of discipline during training and grew in confidence and ability during my events. My family noticed a difference too, and were impressed by my commitment and success.
How has your experience of taking part in the Invictus Games helped you?
When I first started my military training, I honestly thought I wouldn’t be standing at the finish line earning my green beret. I was too young, too skinny and lacked confidence. But, I suppose if you have the raw ingredients Commando training certainly shape you into a soldier. From here I specialised as a Coxswain driving the boats down at Poole. I was loving my trade until I had my road traffic accident.
When the accident happens everything around you stops. Your hopes, your dreams, your aspirations. What you don’t realise is that these are just on hold. Crucially your family unit breaks down too in front of your very eyes. The only thing that doesn’t change is your mates and the banter. For them to turn around and say “So Krolly, when are we going to start doing some sports then” was the best feeling ever.
That’s when you realise that all is not lost. It’s hard not to go back to the job you love and the life you had but you soon gather that life is for living. The more I said “Yes” to sport the happier I felt and the effects of this had on the people around me was far overwhelming. What I didn’t realise was that I was using sport as a recovery tool for my rehabilitation. And rehabilitation never stops!
I’m proud to have trained and competed at the Orlando 2016 Games. The Invictus Games and everything it stands for is a lifestyle and not just a yearly sporting event. The Invictus spirit is going the gym and smashing out a session, it’s going into schools and prisons talking about the Games, it’s training with a purpose and winning the fight daily. Thanks to the Invictus Games I AM focused, I AM determined, I AM in training, I AM Invictus.
Why did you choose to get involved with the 3 Pillars Project?
I’ve been meaning to try public speaking for a while now. But, where do you start? Well, with BLESMA apparently. They were running a programme through the Drive Project which gave veterans the opportunity to work with the top London theatres developing their own story telling techniques. From there the plan was to go into schools and communities and deliver a 20-minute story based around our own personal resilience and over coming adversity. I then had the chance to get involved with the 3 Pillars Project.
I’d been in touch with the Founder Mike Croft – a friend, of a friend, of a friend had put us together – via Facebook but I’m also really grateful to the Invictus Games Foundation for offering me a chance to tell my story and hopefully inspire other people to make that change in their life. To have the chance to share my experiences is a gift and if it helps others along the way then that’s just a bonus.
How are you using your experience and story to inspire and engage others?
When delivering to the 3 Pillars I’m not there to judge or swagger in playing the big I am. My life wouldn’t be the same without my sports. In the same way, I believe that sport can play a positive part of these guys’ rehabilitation and ultimately get them back on track. They appreciate that I’ve taken the time to come in and share my story with them and it raises some interesting discussions during the Q&A bit. For example, one inmate said that he now had a better understanding of what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. His mum has been in a chair for years and I was first person he had ever spoken to about his mum’s disability. He thanked me for being open and honest. The feeling was mutual.