Lancashire heroes hoping for glory in Toronto

Kieran Wood of Whittingham who has been selected for the Invictus Games
Kieran Wood of Whittingham who has been selected for the Invictus Games

An army veteran from Whittingham has been selected to go for gold at this year’s Invictus Games.

Archer Kieran Wood will join wheelchair athlete and former RAF corporal Stuart Robinson, from Morecambe, former Guardsman Greg Dunnings from Preston, and RAF Sergeant Michelle Turner, from Burscough at the games in September.

It is the third time the 29-year-old has been given the honour of representing his country at the event for for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, which has previously been held in 2014 and 2016.

In 2014 Kieran won bronze in a four-minute endurance rowing event, came fifth in a one-minute distance race, and took gold as part of the overall British team effort.

Although he came away empty-handed from the last games, he is confident of getting hold of a medal at this year’s Toronto games.

“Being part of the Invictus Games has helped me focus and stay motivated to achieve my goals,” said Kieran.

“It has given me a great sense of being part of a team and I feel proud that I have achieved so much. It has helped me get to where I am today.”

In previous games, Kieran has competed in rowing, cycling and archery competitions, but this year is concentrating on his favourite discipline of archery - something he has to do using his mouth to shoot the arrow due to weakness in his right hand side.

As in the Paralympic Games, competitors are placed in categories where their limitations are similar, to allow for a level playing field.

The former Oliverson’s Primary and Broughton High school pupil suffered severe brain damage in a car crash while home on leave after a tour of duty in Iraq with the Duke of Lancaster regiment in 2007.

He spent seven months in hospital, before being transferred to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court. At that stage, he couldn’t walk or sit up and could say only three words.

Since then, regular physio, speech therapy and daily gym sessions have enabled Kieran take up a range of sports.

His step-mother Claire Wood said: “In the army Kieran was always a very good shooter, and this shows he’s lost none of his hand-eye co-ordination. It’s amazing how he does it and gets bullseye after bullseye.”

Kieran said the strength needed for archery hurt at first, but is “fine” now after years of practice and specialised exercises.

To make the team, Kieran has been training week-in-week-out in Brockholes near Blackburn on 70m courses, and has had to go for trials across the country.

He will be one of 90 people in the British team flying out to Canada on September 21, prior to the games starting on September 26.

He said: “It will be good, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve made a lot of friends because of the Invictus Games. It’s good to get all the Army lads together, there’s a lot of camaraderie and we all help one another out.”

The Invictus Games 2017 will see more than 550 ill, injured and wounded servicemen and women from 17 allied nations compete in 12 adaptive sports.

Prince Harry, who was inspired to create the international Invictus games after a visit in 2013 to the US-based Warrior Games for wounded, ill and injured military personnel and veterans, said: “These games shine a spotlight on the unconquerable character of servicemen and women and their families. They highlight the competitors’ “Invictus Games spirit.”

“They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together. These games have been a display of the very best of the human spirit.”

Other locals athletes have also been chosen to take part in the games.

Stuart, a former corporal in the Royal Air Force, lost both his legs in Afghanistan after his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

He lives in Morecambe with wife Amy and has a son George and three daughters, Amelia, Poppy and Honey.

He has been selected to compete with the Wheelchair Rugby team in Toronto, having received a bronze medal after competing in the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando.

He said: “It’s a massive privilege to be selected to represent the UK Invictus team.

“Every year I strive to better myself and to be selected for my third Invictus games helps reflect the hard work and determination it requires at top level sport.

“To have my wife and children support me is hugely beneficial as they are the backbone to my sporting success.”

Former Guardsman Greg Dunnings from Preston has always had a passion for sport, competing for his unit in athletics, swimming and rugby.

He was selected for the Army rugby squad before suffering a tibial plateau fracture.

He thought his dream of a life of sporting success had ended and he struggled to accept it.

The Invictus Games has given Greg a new goal, encouraging him to lose the eight stones of extra weight he had gained since leaving the Armed Forces and enabling him to mix with other soldiers again.

Since leaving the Army in 2014, Greg has gained a first-class honours degree in sports coaching and after the Games will begin training to become a secondary school PE teacher.

“Sport and fitness have been, and always will be, a massive part of my life. I shall continue to test my body’s limits post-injury to see what it is still capable of doing,” said the 26-year-old.

He will be competing in rowing, athletics, swimming and powerlifting in Toronto.