Jay’s Invictus Journey
This blog outlines Lt Cdr Jay Saunders of the Royal Navy and his Invictus Journey. This is just the begining.
It took me a long time to realise that I was suffering with PTSD following my deployment on OP GRITROCK, the UK’s contribution to defeating the Ebola virus in West Africa. I was the only Royal Naval Officer ‘Up Threat’, acting as the Chief of Staff to the Kono District Ebola Response Centre and Commander of Forward Operating Base Kono. Kono is the Easternmost, and poorest, district of Sierra Leone. When I arrived we were losing 30 – 50 people a week to the virus. What I saw, I don’t want to share at this time, but suffice to say that Ebola is a horrific virus that kills people because they love each other, men, women and worst, children.
My Support Experience
After being signed of ‘Sick on Shore’ and then diagnosed with PTSD, my family and I felt totally abandoned. Various meetings were held about my case and we were promised everything – but nothing ever happened. In the space of 2 years, I only saw uniformed members of my Service on one occasion (my Medical Board of Survey) and my Divisional Officer in civilian’s, twice. It came to the point where whenever someone promised us something, we automatically expected it to fail to arrive… And we were right. My depression and symptoms kept coming back to full strength each time we were let down.
Eventually, I managed to get on an animation course at Tedworth house where in the margins, I met Gary, got my writst-band and joined the Facebook Group. I then placed matters into my own hands and applied to try out for the Invictus Games; Archery, as I had taken up the sport about 18 months ago through my involvement as a Cub Scout Leader, and dinghy sailing given I teach my Cub to sail.
I attended the Archery Training Camp this January, and given I have been taking part in the sport for more than a year, I can only enter the Open category, rather than the novice category. I have been shooting a discipline called ‘Barebow’, where all you have is the bow and the arrows. I discovered that the Open category is Olympic Freestyle Recurve – these bows have sights, stabilisers, pressure buttons, clickers, dampners and lord knows what else. Of course, I didn’t have any of this equipment. So I bought myself a sight for £11 on Amazon, attached it to my bow and went off to the Training Camp.
When I saw the people that I was up against, including former Invictus Medal Winners, and their equipment, my heart sank. It fell through the floor when I saw them shoot! They had the lot! They had all the bells and whistles, either from years of saving and collecting, or had been donated their gear. To give you some comparison, the sights most of them were using cost well over £240… and I had a £11 on-line plastic job… My bow in total would set you back just over £100… Their risers (the handle part of the bow) cost over £650… Then we were told that as so many people had applied for archery, the selection trials would be 12 arrows per archer!
I came back dispirited and felt that I had lost faith in a sport that I had previously enjoyed. There was no way that I could afford to buy all of this equipment – and without it, there is no way that I could compete with them.
Forgotten Veterans UK
My wife was torn apart when I told her that I wasn’t going to forward with my Invictus application, as there was no way that I could compete with these guys on a level playing field. But thank God, my wife is robust character – she refused to let me give no as an answer. She convinced me to apply to some military charities and ask for a grant. I started applying, only to be refused as I am still ‘serving’ (I will be discharged after my next medical board in May – only 5 weeks after the archery trials).
In a moment of clarity, I decided to post a post on the Forgotten Veterans UK Facebook page, asking for advice on who I could apply to for a grant. As the replies and questions came in thick and fast, I explained my story. Great suggestions came in, amazing votes of support kept on appearing and the amount of love that was shown me made me melt… Then Gary dove in, asking how much I was looking for!
In that evening, I lost count of the number of replies my post got, or the number of times that Gary private messaged me. I ended up in tears for hours – this was the first time that I felt someone out there actually cared about me. Gary got the bit between his teeth and said that he and his trustees were now on the case and they wouldn’t give up until I had the kit I needed to be able to compete. FVUK set me up with a local SSAFA rep, started pressing charities that had previously rejected me, phoned me regularly to further the case – but more importantly, see how I was coping and give me support.
I have just discovered that the RNOC has just approved my request for a grant! But more importantly, I have gained hope and a new family thanks to FVUK and most significantly the hero that is Gary! I have a sport that I will never give up on again, and a community of support that I will never truly be able to thank enough. Just a simple Facebook Group has enhanced my life and I know that they are there whenever I need them. Thank you FVUK!
Lt Cdr Jay Saunders