British Army Swimming Union & Battle Back
BATTLE BACK SWIMMERS IN GIBRALTAR 2010
On May 15 2010, the Army went on its first swimming tour for many years. It took a party of just under 50, including pool and open water swimmers, a water polo team and seven recent casualties from Afghanistan, who are part of the Battle Back programme. Battle Back, a defence- wide programme run out of Headley Court in Surrey, uses sport and adventure training activities to help rehabilitate injured serviceman and women. This year’s group were a mix of Army and Royal Marines casualties and included guys with head and spinal injuries and some amputees.
Gibraltar was a great location to use and facilities included the unheated – “sun heated” 50m Europa outdoor pool, the Gaza indoor full depth 25m pool for water polo and a number of protected beach sites for Open Water swimming, whatever the wind direction or sea-state and with the full safety boat cover. The tour included a gala against the Gibraltarian Swimming Club and water polo fixtures against Gibraltar and a local swimming team from Marbella. The tour was organised by Lt Col Rob Healey, the army swimming team manager. The ASA coaching team that delivered all the sessions consisted of Rosa Gallop, the London and South East talent development officer and long time army coach, Garry Mitchell, ex army and head coach at Teignmouth and Dawlish SCs; and Keith Barber, South East open water coordinator.
The swim squad were narrowly beaten by the Gibraltarian team Cpl Damian Manning, an above the knee amputee, who now trains at Bracknall SC, also swam well in the 200m freestyle and received an incredible ovation from the home crowd.
The Battle Back swimmers were an inspiration throughout the week and it was definitely the right approach to integrate able-bodied and injured swimmers training in the swim sessions at the same time. Cpl Dale Messenger, who suffered spinal injuries after being shot through the hips in Afghanistan in 09 said: “when I arrived at the weekend I could only use my arms to swim the length of the pool where I then had to stop to recover. Now I am doing 20 lengths in the morning and similar in the afternoon. This is so worthwhile- I would recommend it to any other battle casualty. I thought I could swim before I had my injury but now I have had to learn all over again. I am now swimming more confidently that I was before. I will keep swimming regularly now”.
By the middle of the week, water confidence within the Battle-Back group had grown to such and extent that they all volunteered to take part in an open water session at Western Beach. So on the Wednesday afternoon, each swimmer, escorted by open water swimmers and members of the water polo team, completed swims from 400m to 3200m in water of 16C. Major Hamish McCarthy who runs open water and was heling out with the water polo team, said: “ This really is a great environment. In addition to the training, there is tremendous camaraderie - the polo players are in the sea with the Battle Back guys. There’s and excellent spirit throughout the group”.
The tour was a huge success. Thanks go to Lt Col Rhodri Philip, the Battle Back doctor, whose calming presence allowed the guys to push themselves to their limits safely; RAF Sgt Sam Page, our rehabilitation instructor who, as well as looking after her patients, led every warm up and stretching session to minimise the chances of injury; and to the Gibraltarian swimming community, who were excellent hosts, hospitable throughout – and ensured that the water polo was refreshingly physical.
Report courtesy of Swimming Times Magazine