A Wigan former servicewoman who will be the UK’s vice-captain at this year’s Invictus Games has spoken of the life-changing power of the event.
Ex-RAF sergeant Michelle Turner said it was a massive honour to be selected for the leadership role among the 72-strong team of wounded warriors heading to Australia from these shores.
Michelle competed at Invictus for the first time last year in Toronto in Canada and said it was an astounding experience.
She credits the Games with an extraordinary turnaround in her own fortunes after being discharged from the military and ending up with a heart condition whose symptoms were so debilitating she effectively confined herself to her house.
Michelle said: “I’m absolutely blown away to be vice-captain. It’s an absolute honour.
“I’ve got to inspire the team to be the best they can be. I want them all to remember it, cherish it, take a second to soak it all up, look at what’s around them.
“I don’t want them to just let it all go by in a blur.
“Invictus feels like we are doing something for our country again and that is amazing. I used to lead and manage people in the military and then lost that but now I can lead and manage people with Invictus.
“We’re used to wearing uniform with the Union Jack on the sleeve and then lose that, but then with Invictus you get kit with the flag on it.
“We lose our service number but get a Games number instead. Getting together for the training camps beforehand is like being back in the military.
“We’ve got these injuries and illnesses and you think that’s it but Invictus is all about what we can do.
“The power of sport was something I’d never really thought about before but Invictus just shifts your focus away from everything bad that is going on to what you have got and what is good. It’s life-changing.”
Michelle will compete in swimming and indoor rowing in Sydney and hopes things run somewhat more smoothly than they did in Toronto.
Her heart condition, which causes her to suffer exhaustion, extreme dizziness and unannounced collapses, robbed her of the chance to take part in the pool events as she went to hospital following a serious flare-up.
She hopes to settle some unfinished business in Australia and also says that, having mainly enjoyed the experience of Invictus on her debut, she is setting her personal ambitions higher this time out.
She said: “I feel like I just survived last year. I ended up in hospital and it was all a bit crazy.
“I went through every emotion and I’m going to pass on all my experiences as vice-captain.
“None of our lives have gone to plan at all and Toronto didn’t go to plan for me either.
“I’m really looking forward to Sydney, I can’t wait. Now the hard work with all the training starts. I just want to get in the pool this time.
“Last year I never got to swim because I collapsed so I just want to complete my races.
“I’m training hard to be competitive. Last year I was the top UK woman in the indoor rowing and came fifth so I really want to beat that and get a medal.”
Like last year’s event in Canada, Michelle will be supported from the stands by her proud fan club led by husband John and seven-year-old daughter Maya.
She also revealed the very special if rather harrowing reason why she started pursuing the Invictus dream.
She said: “My family will be giving the biggest cheers. The whole reason I started this journey was to make Maya proud of me.
“I came back from the military poorly and kept collapsing.
“When Maya was four she actually saved my life by dialling 999. I hope she’s proud of me now.
“The more I stayed at home the more I thought I was doing the right thing even though it was wrong.
“I want to inspire other people to think that if I can do this, so can they.”