Support through Sport UK had the pleasure of chatting to the GB Captain of the Invictus Games, Dave Henson, about all things sport ...
Hi Dave. Huge thanks for chatting to us. Let's start with the Invictus Games, which were a huge success. Can you tell us about your involvement and share your experiences?
The Games comprised five days of competition and the two ceremonies (which were mind blowing). I was involved in the process from September 2013 right the way through to when the Games actually happened (September 2014). When I say I was involved, I was basically a voice for the people who are in the same situation as me. All the way through, I wasn't really sure what to expect from the Games - so how big they were going to be and how they would be received. However, in the event, the country showed a massive amount of appreciation for the competitors' efforts over the five days - and they also showed a massive amount of appreciation for the Armed Forces. It was staggering really - people kept coming up to us and saying hello and thanks and well done. They really got behind all of the boys and girls. It was fantastic.
Is the Invictus Games likely to become a regular event?
There are definitely going to be more Invictus Games. We're currently in the process of trying to figure out where future Games might be held, and how often they might be held. The whole point of the Games was to bring together wounded, injured and sick servicemen from across the world - so that they could share sport together. We're very keen to continue to do that.
Could you tell us a little about how sport helped with your rehabilitation?
For me, sport started early on in the recovery process, when my wounds had closed. It was then that I got back into swimming and entered some open water swimming competitions with my family. These competitions provided me with a real focus - something to work towards and train for. Hence I got into a routine. I set myself goals, tracked those goals and achieved those goals. When the first competition came, no-one realised that I didn't have legs - as the British water isn't very clear (not like the Caribbean!). So throughout that one mile swim I was just another competitor and I didn't feel any different. I was the last person into the water but I overtook a good number of people and came out with a respectable time. This made me realise that I could really achieve - and that I wasn't as limited as I perhaps thought I might have been. On realising this, I looked for new challenges and new sports. I took up sitting volleyball ... and then I got my running legs.
You completed a Masters degree, which allowed you to fuse your knowledge of engineering with your knowledge of sport. Tell us more ...
So it was a one-year MSc at Imperial College and I actually handed in my dissertation just two weeks after the Invictus Games! It was in biomedical engineering and prosthetics. As a double amputee, I wanted to see what I could do to help to improve this area of technology. My research focused on an implant that can be used to regain and recreate function for people who are in a similar situation to me. The project was very well-received, which was great, and the particular research area is being continued for a further five years. It's actually all part of a 25-year programme into limb regeneration, which is fantastic.
In terms of your sporting future, do you harbour aspirations to compete at the Paralympics?
That sure is the aim right now. Post the Invictus Games, I got taken on by the the Academy Programme on the Parallel Success side of British Athletics. This is essentially a development group to get beginners into lower-level sporting competitions. That's gone very well. I've also been taken on by the Frontline Startline Programme, which is run in conjunction with the British Paralympic Association and Help for Heroes. The programme basically gives you access to coaching, and coaching modules, to enable you to perform better at an elite level. So, along with all my winter training, this should all help me to compete in some international competitions this summer. Then I'll hopefully get selected for the World Championships in Qatar in October. This would then hopefully mean that I would get onto a high-level programme, which would take me through to Rio. But we'll see how it all pans out!
What would your message be to someone who is thinking of taking up sport or exercise?
I think I'd say that it doesn't really matter which sport you take up - anything that enables you to set goals and achieve those goals can give you a real sense of achievement. In addition, there are the obvious health benefits of being active.
Many thanks for chatting to us, Dave, and we wiish you all the best with your sporting goals and thank you for your contribution to the fantastic Invictus Games.