Joe Dillnutt dislocated his shoulder during a charity event in Afghanistan while serving with 2 Royal Anglian in 2013. It has never healed properly; he has no strength or movement in it and the chronic pain he’s endured over the years led to a brain injury.
He runs with his left arm in a sling – something that prevents him from running as most people do, swinging their arms back and forth to propel their torso forward at speed.
Still, encouraged by his wife, Dillnutt joined an athletics club and took up sprinting. He hadn’t run for four years and to begin with it was, in his own words, “agonising”.
But, after being fitted with a new sling, he began to enjoy it and five years after his injury, he’s at the Invictus Games in Australia, having been trained by Paralympic coach, Joe McDonnell.
“I knew the benefits of sport recovery from going on a couple of Help for Heroes events,” Dillnutt told Forces News.
“But I didn’t understand the effect that it has on people, until I started doing it. I think I’ve changed completely as a person again.”
“My family members and closest friends say they’ve seen a real change in me; I’ve put weight back on that I’d lost drastically. I’m a happier person – more talkative, bit more back to my normal self.”
“What he’s learning is probably more about coping with situations,” said McDonnell.
“Although he’s learning very, very quickly on the track,” he added.
“From where he was to where he is, he’s done an incredible job. You can see with Joe that every time he comes and does a session, he learns something new. There’s that little one percent of confidence that goes into that, that changes what he does and how he handles situations.”
Ahead of his departure, Dillnutt said the thing he was most looking forward to about Invictus was simply performing:
“[I’m] most looking forward to competing, love pushing myself and to see where I’m at compared to other people with similar injuries to me. Got a bit of an odd injury, not many people tend to just have a problem with one arm and nothing else.”
“What I’m not looking forward to is with my brain is that I really struggle with crowds,” he added.
“All the noise, all the attention that’s going to be on us, the spotlight - really going to struggle with that. But I’ve got ways and means of coping with that."
"Luckily my wife knows how to spot when my brain’s starting to go bad and she’s taught a few of the people that are going to be around me how to deal with that. I refer to her as my safety blanket, if she’s there it’s okay.”