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Invictus Competitor from Wales in Rowing Challenge for Help for Heroes

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A Team UK Invictus Games competitor from Wales is rowing 100 miles to raise funds for Help for Heroes, the charity she says gave her a second chance at life after suffering injuries whilst serving.

Kelly Leonard, 42, of Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, is joining three of her Invictus Games teammates who are all bidding to complete 100 miles each on a static rowing machine between now and 20 June. The 400 miles they will complete as a team is the distance is the equivalent of London to Edinburgh.

All four were due to compete for Team UK at the Invictus Games in The Hague this year. However, due to Covid-19, the Games have been rescheduled to next summer and whilst training camps are currently on hold, this challenge is giving them a new focus.

A former RAF physical training instructor, Kelly, the Team UK Vice-Captain, had a motorbike accident in July 2000 which almost led to her having her foot amputated. The injury has left the mother-of-three, originally from South Wales, with arthritis in her ankle and needing to use crutches on bad days.  The 42-year-old has always held competitive sports as a major part of her life but says the accident stopped her in her tracks.

“I learnt to walk again and live the best I could within my limitations,” said Kelly.

“I tried several different individual and team sports but failed to fill the void as I was never able to participate on a level playing field. I lost focus on sport; as a result my physical and mental recovery suffered. It left me with a loss of confidence and self- belief.”

Kelly eventually accessed support from Help for Heroes through its sports recovery programme and was selected Vice-Captain for the Invictus Games 2020 in The Hague, now postponed until 2021. She said her mental health has suffered during lockdown and she needed a new focus.

“My mental health has taken a nosedive and I have been putting on a brave face,” she explained. “The spiral continued so I knew I needed something to focus on. With the loss of Invictus this year, I lost the motivation to do anything. I need goals to focus on and lockdown inhibited my goals.  It has set me back and I am doing my best to keep a positive mindset but sometimes I fail. I start training and feel great but then I find excuses to stop because I have lost my drive. This challenge gives me accountability for my training. It will have a positive effect and will help me give back to a charity that was helped so many.”

Shelley Elgin, Help for Heroes Community Recovery Manager for Wales and Hereford, said:

“By stepping up to raise vital funds for veterans and their families, our Team UK competitors are showing huge strength once more in the face of adversity. Right now, we need support more than ever to keep our services running for those who give us, and our nation, their all. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve received an increase in calls to our mental health and clinical support teams from those who are struggling to cope or worried about the future. Isolation, anxiety and a loss of routine are all common issues for those we support, and the coronavirus situation has heightened these issues for many. We rely on the great British public for 97% of our income, and with most of our fundraising activities and events either cancelled or on hold, this has fallen. We are therefore extremely grateful to people like Kelly who are helping us fulfil our promise to our veterans and their families.”