Written by Archers staff
Gwynne Walker, part of the Cardiff Met Archers National League wheelchair side, has been selected for the 2022 GB Invictus Games squad, set to take place in The Hague from April 16th to April 22nd.
As a Club, we are very proud of Gwynne and his journey, and Rosie Williams, who is also out with the team in the Netherlands as assistant coach, caught up with Gwynne to discuss his path from Army Engineer to Archer engine room.
We are also proud of Rosie for her work with the team - pob lwc, Gwynne and Rosie!
"I enlisted into the Army in 2004, joining the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), and I conducted my Phase 2 training in Bordon at the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering and Qualified as a Vehicle Mechanic in 2005.
"I was assigned to a number of units, including 9/12 Lancers, 14 Signal Regiment, Cyprus Operational Support Unit, 8 Training Battalion REME and 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
"During my time in the Army I have represented the REME and the British Army Germany first 15 at Rugby.
"Throughout my career with the British Army, I proactively volunteered to push myself out of my comfort zone. My engineering knowledge and expertise was tested on complex and unfamiliar equipment, and I was honoured that this led to my selection for promotion to Lance Corporal in 2010. In 2011 I returned to 14 Signal Regiment and was deployed to Afghanistan.
Walker was awarded promotion to Corporal in 2013, and was posted to Akrotiri, Cyprus, where he provided support to units in Iraq and Syria in Operation Shader. It was during this deployment that Walker's life would be changed.
"Unfortunately this is where I had an injury and received my first surgery on my right hip, where it was later discovered I had early onset osteoarthritis. I returned to the UK in 2015 where I was responsible for the nurturing and development of junior tradesman.
"In 2017 I arrived at the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. This posting was somewhat frustrating as I was awaiting results from a previous MRI scan on my left hip. The MRI also led to surgery and unfortunately it did not go as planned. I now had osteoarthritis in both hips as well as torn labrums, and bursitis."
This injury setback would fundamentally affect Walker's lifestyle and sense of identity, and it was a chance encounter with a fellow serviceman on a training course that would lead the turnaround for Walker.
"Over the next two and a half years I continually attended rehabilitation programs, but these offered little success. This made me extremely angry and eventually led to deep depression, as more time went by I started to loose my identity, I felt I was no longer the fit, confident man I once was and I struggled to accept the fact that I was now a disabled in my early 30’s.
"I shut my self away from the world as I didn’t want people to see me as this disabled man and have their judgment. This led to a four-month period of not leaving the house and only speaking to my wife, daughter, and doctor. This led to an anxiety disorder, which coupled with the depression, made life extremely hard and almost overtook my physical injury.
During one of my mandatory courses I was fortunately sat next to an RAF Fireman I was posted with in Cyprus by the name of Charlie Dye. He couldn’t believe the change in me and started talking to me about signing up for Invictus games. I was not in the right state of mind to do so, but I just said 'yeah whatever' and never gave it another thought.
"Two days later and Charlie had filled out the form for me and marched me to the desk to hand it in, I did, and I can honestly say it is the best decision I have ever made."
Walker's first foray into the world of the Invictus Games squad helped him rediscover his old sense of self, and athletic ability, and the turnaround, according to Walker, helped demonstrate the 'power of sports recovery'.
"The first training camps were a massive step for me to even get in the car to drive there, and even bigger to get out of the car once there, but once I did, I was hooked.
"Slowly but surely I started to see glimpses of the old me coming back, and once I found wheelchair basketball, I was sold. The freedom I felt being in a chair and being able to compete again for the first time was a feeling I will never forget. I truly felt the power of sports recovery and I was so grateful as I never thought I would feel that way again."
2020 was a difficult year for many, and Walker now had to experience another fundamental life-changing experience.
"2020 brought about a lot of changes for me, as I was discharged from the military. This was a huge disappointment as it had been my life for the best part of 18 years and I had always considered myself a soldier, and now that identity had been taken away.
"On the other hand I had been selected to represent Team UK at the Invictus Games in The Hague.
"This moment will forever be with me, it is up there with the best moments in my life and it helped me to realise that there is something good in me and other people could see that and not just my disability.
"The Games were delayed by Covid-19, and while I was disappointed at the delays I was also happy that I got to spend more time in the programme and be around the most amazing people in my fellow competitors and coaches."
It was during this time that Walker met Rosie Williams, who is Co-Head Coach of the High Performance Programme at Cardiff Met, and Walker's effuse praise of Williams shines through.
"Words can not describe how much I owe Rosie.
"I still struggle daily with my mental health and every time I have needed support, Rosie has been there with her infectious and positive energy.
"When Rosie asked me to come train at Archers I was so nervous, doubting if I was good enough, wondering if the people would accept me, along with all the other worries racing through my mind.
"I arrived about 30 mins early for the training session and sat in my car debating whether to to go in or not, and then out comes Rosie searching the cars to find me.
"She talked to me, helped me calm down, and walked in with me. At no point did she need to be there but her kind and caring nature is incredible. She turned up to my first training sessions to make sure I was okay and when she realised I was there, she let me make my own way.
"Her ability to make people feel the best about themselves and push boundaries is amazing and without her support I'm not sure I'd be the man I am today."
Walker's story is, like all of the Invictus stars, inspirational, and he summarises his journey with passion and with some moving comments about what being an Invictus player and an Archer means to him.
"It's safe to say the Invictus programme has saved my life.
"I was in a very dark and painful place before I took the leap and joined the Invictus family. The power of sports recovery is undeniable and the amazing people that volunteer to make it happen are the most incredible, selfless people without any want for themselves except to help others.
"This is the best thing I have ever been a part of and I cant wait to continue my journey with Archers once my Invictus journey ends and hopefully inspire others who are in a similar place to where I was take the leap and get back on track to happy life."
Watch the Invictus Games live here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04hgs2m
Find out more about Wheelchair Basketball at the Invictus Games here: https://invictusgames2020.com/en/sport/wheelchair-basketball/
The Invictus Games The Hague 2020 will harness the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate a wider understanding and respect of those who serve their country.
Find out more here: https://invictusgames2020.com/en/about/purpose/