Mention the military and you might think it is no fun and no games. People might, at best, remember the Army having to step in to help with security at the London Olympics, without realising that all parts of the UK military are actively engaged in sports and other pastimes at all levels. The basic requirements of most sports – physical fitness, discipline and determination – make this seem like an obvious pairing, but an examination of the sports and activities on offer reveals a selection which is more varied and accessible than might be imagined. Yes, the likes of mountaineering, kayaking and boxing are all on offer – the kind of intense physical endeavours which readily lend themselves to a military milieu – but so are table tennis, power kiting and golf. In fact, think of an activity and the chances are that it will be available, either as part of a wider team or on an individual basis.
Army Elite Sport Programme (AESP)
The military commitment to the elite end of the spectrum was underlined in 2014 by the creation of the Army Elite Sport Programme (AESP), an initiative which saw the Army teaming up with UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) with the aim of finding and supporting talent throughout the army, with the ultimate aim of producing competitors to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The inspiration for this initiative was provided, at least in part, by the example of Heather Stanning, a major in the British Army. When Heather successfully defended her gold medal at the Rio Olympics, winning the women’s pair with Helen Glover, it was the crowning achievement of a five-year unbeaten run which had seen the team emerge triumphant in no fewer than 39 races.
Challenges of a different flavour
Achievements of a similarly mind-boggling nature were chalked up by Flt Lt Jo Murray and Flt Lt Tim Nettleton, who battled the searing heat of Indian Wells Valley California in October 2016. Tim took part in the 10 mile Man vs Horse race (see header image ( © Copyright Roger Kidd), coming 21st out of 96 and, even more impressively, beating six horses. Jo, on the other hand, completed a 50 mile version of the same challenge, braving 89 degree Fahrenheit temperatures to emerge as the leading female runner and finish third overall.
All of which might, admittedly, sound a little too superhuman for those of us not blessed with elite sporting capabilities, but the point of the options on offer within the military is that they cover an impressively wide spectrum. From team challenges such as that undertaken by the Royal Navy Ice Hockey Team, which beat teams from across the UK to take the 2016 UK Winter Classic Trophy in Nottingham, the UK’s only outdoor ice hockey tournament, to the football refereeing courses offered by the RAF.
Bearing in mind that it’s the time of year when people start making (and breaking) resolutions, the focus offered by taking up an activity in your spare time might be just enough to keep your individual commitment to self-improvement on track. Whether or not it marks the start of a journey to Olympic glory, World Championship triumph or just the chance to meet like-minded people and enjoy yourself is completely up to you. Whether you want to climb mountains, umpire cricket matches or shoot clay pigeons, the military will make it possible and help you to become the best you can become at the activity you choose.