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While former Royal Marine Alex Brewer’s injuries aren’t hard to miss, former Royal Navy submariner Craig Petherbridge’s are harder to see.
Both were among the 120 injured, serving and former tri-service men and women –recovering from visible and invisible injuries – who took on this year’s Rehabilitation Triathlon at the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre, Lympstone and surrounding countryside.
We are proud to be the principal supporters of the Rehabilitation Triathlon. This year’s event was made possible through the efforts of fundraiser Lisa Ronson, who, last June climbed Mont Blanc raising an incredible £123,722 for RMA – The Royal Marines Charity and cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres. The Rehabilitation Triathlon is addiontally supported by Help For Heroes and the Castle Triathlon Series.
Some had lost limbs, others were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and for the majority taking part, the swimming, cycling and static rowing challenge, which in the past has attracted the support in person of the Duke of Sussex and Superman actor Henry Cavill, played a significant part in their arduous roads to recovery, making them “feel normal” again.
Brewer, 29, from Nottingham, formerly of 42 Commando, Plymouth, lost a leg while on patrol in Nad-e Ali north in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2011, after stepping on an Improvised Explosion Device (IED). His recovery is ongoing.
“We were on our way to a compound in an abandoned village with the aim of setting up a presence there so the local civilians could return,” recalled Alex, who was 21 at the time. “It was early afternoon, I was the second man behind the point man and I stepped off the road and activated an IED.
“Once the dust had settled I remember everyone running around trying to help me, having a tourniquet put on, being given morphine, then the helo arriving. I didn’t know my leg was missing at the time.
“With a life change like this, you have to adapt,” he continued. “Once you’re through that transitional process, like the bird who learns to fly after breaking a wing, you’ve got to move on with your life. A fitness regime helped me, and events like the triathlon are part of that, providing a goal.”
Petherbridge, 32, from Swansea, formerly a weapons engineer with eight years’ service, was discharged last year after he developed dystonic tremors affecting his neck and voice, also his balance, following an 11-month deployment.
“My whole world was turned upside down, it destroyed me mentally,” he admitted. “I was struggling to cope and was too embarrassed to leave the house so I became isolated.”
Through sport Craig gradually started to reclaim his confidence, and his life. “I got into running and swimming and being physically fit really boosted my confidence,” he added. “This allowed me to address the mental toll the injury and loss of my career was having on me.
“Twelve months ago I didn’t want to leave the house, now I’m looking forward to starting university.”
The Rehab Tri involves Royal Navy, Army and RAF armed forces personnel regardless of where they are in their recoveries and this year included Northern Ireland, Balkans, Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the UK, as well as Royal Marines recruits and cohorts from the US Marine Corps and the Royal Netherlands Marines Corps.
Event organiser, Captain Phil Newton, commanding officer at Hasler Naval Service Recovery Centre at HMS Drake, Plymouth, said: “Competitive sport gives those in recovery something to aim for, and sport has parallels to service life in terms of involving the same qualities, like motivation, perseverance and resilience as well as being physically fit.
“Because there are different ability levels, the triathlon is an inclusive event which anyone can take part in and provides a platform for them to prove what they’re capable of, even if they didn’t think they were.
“In turn, this helps them in their transition into civilian life, helping them realise they are very capable and can still achieve, in spite of their injuries.”
Rehabilitation Triathlon – Story & Photos by Fran McElhone