Soldiering On 2018 - Sporting Excellence finalist Matt Neve

It's not long before the Soldiering On Awards announce which finalist will take home the Sporting Excellence Award, which recognises forces personnel who have overcome disability or injury to excel in sport.

The event, which honours injured, wounded and sick soldiers and their families, is a chance to thank all the finalists for their support and dedication to military service.

Members of the Armed Forces community and the general public can put forward people, teams, charities and businesses they would like to see recognised.

Take a look below at those in the running for the prestigious award...

Mark Smith

 

Soldiering On 2018 - Sporting Excellence finalist Mark Smith

A former Lance Sergeant in the Queen's Company of the Grenadier Guards, Mark joined the Army at 18 and undertook operational tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As he was preparing for his second tour of Afghanistan in 2011, however, he was injured during a live firing exercise in Canada.

A freak shooting accident saw machine gun fire tear through a building and hit the soldier in the thigh and shoulder.

"I had seven bullets in my leg and shoulder. It was one of those freak things but I don't blame the soldier who fired the gun."

Mark was left fighting for his life in hospital and his wife was flown out to Canada to be with him.

After he came off life support, doctors told him it was necessary to amputate his leg if he was to survive the day.

Mark was lying in bed and determined to walk again. He spent two years at Headley Court and, on his last day, was able to run 400m on a track.

During the recovery period, there was one day when it suddenly hit Mark that he had lost his career as well as a leg - and it was time to think about what was next.

After some thought, he decided he wanted to do a personal training course.

Since his injury, he has had 26 operations and many months of rehabilitation to both his leg and shoulder. The extent of his injuries led to him being medically discharged in 2013. Mark said:

"I loved every second of the Army and would still be doing it if I had not been injured."

After qualifying as a personal trainer, Mark went on to run his own business. He then took his love for fitness a step further and, after initially training as a bodybuilder, went into full-time training for disabled strongman competitions.

Mark now holds the title of Britain's Strongest Disabled Man for 2016 and 2017, having retained his title in May 2017.

He was also invited to take part in 'The Arnolds' - a prestigious strongman competition in Ohio, America, created by Arnold Schwarzenegger - and fought off 11 other competitors to be crowned the winner.

This September, Mark competed in the World's Strongest Disabled Championships, held at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and placed an impressive fourth.

His determination to excel in the field of sport remains and he will return to the competition next year, aiming for first place.

Mark was helped in his rehabilitation by ABF The Soldiers' Charity, which provided funds for amputee crutches, home adaptations and towards wheelchair costs in 2016, along with the Colonels Fund (of the Grenadier Guards' regimental charity).

Steve Crowley

 

Soldiering On 2018 - Sporting Excellence finalist Steve Crowley

Former Welsh Guardsman Steve Crowley was 33 when he lost one of his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2010.

In the years that followed, running became Steve's rehabilitation and he set himself goals to help move his recovery forward.

Soon enough a 10k running target became running half marathons, which grew into conquering marathons.

After completing the Exmoor Ironman challenge, the single-leg amputee wanted to up his game further and joined the GB triathlon team.

Prior to the Rio Paralympics, Steve had won one silver medal at the Duathlon European Championships and a bronze medal in the Paratriathlon National Championships.

Since, Steve has won his first gold at a Paratriathlon World Cup race in July 2017 and amazingly, despite being out for seven weeks due to injury, won silver at the World Triathlon Championships in September.

Steve now has a further gold medal and two more silvers under his belt. His goal is to represent his country again at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

He has previously raised money for Blesma, The Limbless Veterans, after being helped by the charity during his rehabilitation.

Matt Neve

 

Soldiering On 2018 - Sporting Excellence finalist Matt Neve

Former RAF driver Matt Neve embodies the rehabilitative nature of sport and competition. Just over a year after he first drew a bow, Matt won an archery gold at the Invictus Games in Toronto (above).

Three years joining the services in 2001 aged 16, Matt was medically discharged suffering from PTSD.

He had been deployed to Iraq in 2003 as part of Op Telic 1. His role as driver loading the injured servicemen and women onto military aircraft for repatriation took its toll and he was eventually medically evacuated himself.

Matt was so affected by his time in Iraq he was unable to tell his partner Zoe about it for six years. All she knew was he had been in Cyprus and was mentally ill. He had not even been able to tell her he had been to Iraq.

Coming to terms with his experiences has been a long process for Matt and it is only recently that he has been able to share them with Zoe.

 

But, thanks to a chance remark from a friend who suggested Matt try out a new sport, his recovery has taken a new, positive turn.

Being selected for the Invictus Games UK squad was a high point, which has only been eclipsed by winning gold at his first international competition.

Archery has given Matt renewed self-worth and self-confidence and a new focus in life. He is committed to achieving all he can and trains up to four times a week.

For him, the simple act of drawing the bow allows him to shut out the rest of the world, the noise and the clamour and to concentrate his mind on hitting the target.

This mindfulness and awareness have enabled Matt to take new steps in his recovery, becoming a shining example of the restorative impact sport can have.

Matt was helped in his rehabilitation by the RAF Benevolent Fund, who he approached to aid with the costs of purchasing competitive archery equipment once he realised he had a natural aptitude for the sport.

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