Even though he missed out on a medal by just a fraction of a second, watched by David Beckham, a Bridlington-born veteran has described competing in the Invictus Games as a ‘life-changing experience’.
Former Senior Aircraftsman David Atkin broke his back in a road accident in Afghanistan in 2010, but says he is determined to go back to the games in 2020 and go one better.
He was part of a 72-strong British team who headed to Sydney for the fourth running of the sports event, which was set up by Prince Harry for wounded, injured and sick military personnel.
David competed in the powerlifting, indoor rowing and on the track, and was edged out of the bronze medal spot in the 100m by 0.07 seconds.
“What a whirlwind that was,” said David, who now lives in London. “The whole journey was one big emotional rollercoaster. From walking out on stage for the first time to meeting David
Beckham after he watched me compete in the Men’s 100m final, it was the most surreal experience of my life so far.
“Missing out on that bronze medal by only 0.07 seconds is tough but it makes me all the more hungry for the next Games in the Hague in 2020. Despite not winning a medal I’m returning with some lifelong friends, not just from Team UK, but from other nations too. It really has been a life-changing experience for me and one I will never forget.”
He joined the Royal Air Force Regiment as a section machine gunner as a teenager but was medically discharged after four years of service.
David has undergone numerous spinal operations but still suffers with daily pain.
“When I was medically discharged from the RAF I felt cheated,” he said. “I’d barely started out in my career before it was gone. Things got on top of me and I spiralled into a pretty dark place. I became depressed, gained weight, stopped going out and things broke down in my marriage.
“The Invictus Games came just at the right time and gave me something positive to focus on again. I started going to the gym, the weight dropped off and I began to start to feel happy in myself again.
“I watched the 2017 Games on the TV and saw how it changed people’s lives. I knew I wanted a bit of that. So, I worked hard, trained every day and applied.
“When I found out I’d made the team – a weight lifted – I thought, this is a new chapter for me. And I felt grateful, like it was meant to be. I had a one in eight chance of getting selected and it’s crazy that it‘s now all come to an end.”
David now works for the Military Preparation College which helps 16 to 23-year-olds develop their fitness, vocational qualifications, and employability skills and prepare for employment in the British Armed Forces.
He said: “I have a fantastic job now. I feel like I am really making a difference to people’s lives and passing on my knowledge and experience of the military, it’s the perfect job. I still feel like I’m part of that family and that’s important to me.”
Air Commodore Paul Hughesdon, Director of Welfare and Policy at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “This is a great example of how we can help those whose lives have been changed by their Service.
“The rehabilitative nature of sport has been well documented, and David is a prime example of the difference it can make, nothing less than transformational!
“We are incredibly proud to have been able to help David on his journey to better health but it’s important to say that after the athletes return home and the Invictus excitement dissipates, that as the RAF’s oldest friend, the Fund will be here to support David and everyone else, should they once again need our help.”