The World Para Athletics Championships takes place between 14-23 July at the London Stadium, in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The 49 strong Great Britain team is bolstered by the presence of veterans David Henson and Luke Sinnott, both of whom have overcome injuries sustained whilst serving in the armed forces in order to pursue a sporting career.
With over 1,300 athletes from more than 100 countries taking part in 202 medal events it’s difficult to single out particular highlights to look out for, and that’s why we’re concentrating, instead, on the two veterans who will be giving their all.
David Henson is the more experienced of the two, having been competing in a range of sports since 2011. David joined the army in 2008 and quickly rose to the position of Captain in the Corps of Royal Engineers. It was in 2011, whilst deployed as a Royal Engineer Search Advisor in Afghanistan, that David stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and lost both his legs. The quick actions of his colleagues (he was on the operating table within 37 minutes) saved his life, but the long hard process of rehabilitation was only just beginning. After five weeks at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, he was transferred to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court. It was during this period that he began to use sport as an aid to recovery, first taking part in open water swims and then playing Sitting Volleyball. He’s since spoken about the way in which sport helped him to put his life back together:
“When we were on the court nothing else mattered. No-one cared how many legs you did or didn’t have, it was all about getting across the court as quickly as possible, digging out blind to get that ball that would otherwise cost your team just one point. That’s what sport in recovery is all about. Forgetting about the pain and the drama for ten minutes, an hour. Get your head in the game and don’t let your team down.”
In December 2011, 10 months after stepping on the IED, David received his first set of running blades, something which lifted his sporting excellence to a whole other level. Since then he has captained the British Armed Forces Team at the 2014 Invictus Games, where he also won gold medals in Sitting Volleyball and in the 200m sprint. Despite only making his debut for the Great Britain Para Athletics in 2015, David went on to compete in the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. He ran over 200m both times, winning a silver medal at the former and a bronze at the latter. At the World Para Athletics Championships David Henson took part in the T42 100 and 200m sprints and brought home a bronze medal for the UK!
For Luke Sinnot, the games represent a debut in the GB Para Athletics vest, but eagle-eyed fans of the sport may recognise him. At the closing ceremony for the 2012 Paralympic Games, Luke took part in a Raising the Flag ceremony. This involved Luke climbing to the top of a flagpole towering over the stadium and unfurling a Union flag. What would have been an impressive feat in any circumstances was made more so by the fact that Luke lost both his legs after stepping on an IED in Helmland, Afghanistan, in 2010. At the time he was serving as a Captain in the Royal Engineers, and his injuries were so severe that it required more than 100 hours of surgery to prevent the loss of his left arm as well. Within six months of the injury he was flying a plane, and he was also part of the Great Britain Paralympics Sailing Team. It was after watching the 2014 Invictus Games whilst recovering from further surgery that Luke decided to broaden his sporting endeavours. At the 2016 Invictus Games he took part as someone now expert in rowing, swimming, running and the long jump, bringing home a gold medal in the 400m and silver in the 200m. This led to his call up to Para Athletics with Team GB, to attend his first ever T42 long jump. Even though he fell just short of a medal in his World Para debut, the fact that he had only taken up the sport last year and being a double amputee on the field is remarkable!