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Invictus athletes' road to Toronto starts at Brunel


Track and field athletes selected to compete in this year’s Invictus Games started their journey to Toronto last week with a two-day training camp at Brunel University London’s world-class outdoor athletics facilities.

With the Invictus Games opening ceremony 100 days away on 23 September, British Athletics coaches started putting the wounded, injured and sick serving military personnel and veterans through their paces, to ensure they are mentally and physically prepared for the competition.

The athletes will form part of the UK delegation of 90 competitors heading to the international veterans’ sports event, fronted by Prince Harry. They were selected as part of a rigorous process based on the benefit that the games will give each individual as part of their recovery, combined with performance and commitment to training.   

Significant mental health benefits

For Scotty Darroch, formerly of the British Army’s Royal Logistic Corps, sport is helping him recover from post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD). “In 1996 I witnessed the worst that humanity could do on the streets of the United Kingdom. I was in possession of a mental trauma – a mental injury. I suffered terribly…”

After struggling with drink and drugs, Scotty was eventually diagnosed with PTSD in 2013. “Using Help for Heroes and using sports as a recovery, I find that having a goal and a purpose every day, to get you focused and give you that commitment – it’s played a massive role in my recovery.”

In September’s games, Scotty will compete in the shot put, discus and powerlifting. The significant mental health benefits for him and his fellow athletes can be translated outside of sport and into everyday life.

Left: Scotty Darroch on Brunel’s outdoor track.
Right: Luke Sinnott, who is also competing at the IPC Athletics World Championship this year.

World-class facilities – and support

The Invictus team were complementary about Brunel’s facilities – and weren’t the only athletes there that day. “Training here today at Brunel University, in a world-class setting, has been fantastic,” said Scotty. “And it’s great too that we’ve got Mr Linford Christie here, who gave us a good few words of encouragement and pointers.”

Brunel’s world-class sporting facilities include the Indoor Athletics Centre, used earlier this month by the indoor rowers training for the Invictus Games, and the outdoors Sports Park. All these facilities are fully accessible for athletes with disabilities – supported by attentive staff.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Bill Leahy visited the training camp and met with the athletes’ head coach, Joe McDonnell, who is a Para GB coach. Reporting on their conversation, Professor Leahy said: “Joe was saying that, as good as the facilities are, what he’s really thankful about is how many people there are here to help and to answer questions, which he says is really as important as having the good facilities.”

Left: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Bill Leahy in conversation with athletics and powerlifting competitor Steve Cokayne.
Right: Head coach Joe McDonnell advising Daniel Phillips.

Rooting for success

The journey to recovery is as important as the competition itself, but Brunel staff and students will be rooting for success for the UK athletes.

Theodore Zake, the Ugandan 100m national champion and a Brunel undergraduate studying for a BSc in Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences with Business Studies, was assisting Joe with coaching sprints and finessing the athletes’ technique.

“It’s an amazing competition, it’s an amazing organisation set up for these vets, for the soldiers that have been injured,” said Theo. “And obviously we’re 100% behind the boys and that’s why it’s great to share our knowledge with them. And I’m sure they’re going to do amazing.”

Left: Kelly Ganfield, who will compete in the 100m, 200m and discus, and who requires a guide to run with.
Right: Theodore Zake (on the left) providing advice on sprinting technique.

Brunel’s sporting pedigree

Brunel’s spacious facilities are complemented with automatic doors, lifts and accessible toilets, as well as tie-downs to keep wheelchairs still, portable induction loops for people with hearing problems, and an adaptable rowing machine.

These facilities, combined with a strong sports pedigree and a competitive and prestigious Sports Scholarship Programme, have enabled Brunel to help athletes achieve their world-leading potential, including several Rio 2016 Paralympics success stories.

Brunel also has strong links with the military, having signed the Armed Forces Covenant in September 2016, and holds a silver award in the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme.

Read more about Brunel University London’s Sports Scholarship Programme, or enquire about booking our world-class sports facilities.

Video introduced by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Bill Leady, and features Invictus athletes Scotty Darroch and Corporal Callum Nugent, plus Brunel student Theodore Zake.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations