When a UK serviceman or woman gets seriously injured while serving abroad, it can seem like the end of the world. Losing a leg is extremely traumatic for anyone. But for professionals who pride themselves on being at the absolute peak of their physical game, there’s the added mental sting of losing the challenge and achievement they’re used to seeing every day as they serve the UK.
That’s where the Combined Services (Army, Navy and Air Force’s) Disabled Ski Team (CSDST) comes in. The charity trains wounded, injured or sick personnel to be Paralympic-standard skiers, reintroducing the spirit of challenge and competition that they were accustomed to as part of normal Service life.
They’ve been a huge success, with Army Sergeant (retired) Mick Brennan competing for Team GB at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics. But this success wouldn’t have come without the team’s extensive cycling programme which is part of the charity’s specially developed path towards sporting success. The team has set the bar high and is now trying to raise the £20,000 they need to take 2 more team members to the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Games.
Our Editor Scot Whitlock was intrigued by this inspirational story and interviewed Mick Brennan to find out more:
How did you come to be part of the CSDST Team?
I became a member of the Combined Services Disabled Ski Team (CSDST) in November 2008 after it was first set up by a military man, Major (now Lt Col) Ian Large. After being injured and starting my rehabilitation, I tried a number of different sports including ice hockey and rowing but in March 2008 I was invited to learn to ski by the Army through their ‘Battle Back – Adaptive Snow Warrior programme’ and I quickly took to it – I loved it. I enjoyed the freedom of skiing and feeling gravity taking me down the mountain and the feeling of wind rushing past me – something I didn’t think I would ever experience after my injury. I was told I was pretty good and had a natural talent but didn’t believe them – I was just determined to succeed, get stronger, get fitter…. in spite of everything.
Of the 16 of us on the Snow Warrior programme, 5 joined the CSDST and I am the only one left from the original group now. The CSDST have invested a lot of effort and resource supporting my skiing development and I am extremely grateful for that. Certainly, without all of that, I would not have achieved representing Paralympics GB in Sochi earlier this year – and now focusing on the Paralympics in S. Korea in 2018.
Do you enjoy the cycling, or it is just a means of maintaining fitness?
I need to maintain my fitness levels if I am to compete in the 5 ski disciplines at international levels. Cycling is one way I do this and I do enjoy it (after I have been training for a while and when I am fit). If I do not maintain my training, it is hard work as I cycle on a hand bike so it’s all about upper body strength for me.
What does the cycling training regime consist of?
I don’t really have one – really depends how I feel and what my body feels like – sometimes its distance and endurance, sometimes its short but fast, sometimes I go for hills (Ahhhhh!!!). As I said, it’s all about how my body feels
What the best and worst part of the cycling?
Going uphill is the hardest as all I have to cycle with is my arms and these are obviously not as strong as legs – I also don’t have the ability to extend on my pedals for extra force. All that said, the feeling you get once you have completed your ride is AMAZING!
Can you explain the specifications of the bike?
My bike is a 3 wheeled hand bike – two wheels on the back a seat and a wheel on the front that you steer with your arms like a normal bike. The front wheel is the location for the small gears that are located on the back wheels on a normal bike. The handlebars are the ‘pedals’ which I turn using my arms – on the handles I have brakes with the controls for the small cogs being on right hand and the big cogs on the left.
What are the benefits to you and the team from using the bikes?
Continued fitness training during the summer – being able to train and get out in the fresh air on roads the same as everyone (maybe just not as fast or ride for as long!)