Invictus Games Athlete - Nerys Pearce
Ahead of the 2016 Invictus Games Nerys talks about how sport and the Blesma activities programme helped her come to terms with her injury.
Tell us about your life before your accident…I always wanted to be in the military, and I joined the Army as a Combat Paramedic in 2004. It was amazing. I had some great experiences, such as kayaking in Bavaria and skiing in Austria. But in 2008, back in the UK, I was on a motorbike when a car reversed off a kerb and went right over me. I was paralysed from the chest down.
It took you a long time to recover, mentally…I was all over the place for years. I stayed on in the military for four years, but I spent so long in and out of hospital, and I was on eight different drugs. I went from weighing nine stone to somewhere near 15 stone. Everything changed, even my social groups. Before the injury I was always the first one to suggest doing things, and that just stopped overnight. I gave myself a really hard time and felt like I was a burden on everyone. I was staring at the walls. My parents and sister were amazingly supportive, but I was dragging my family and friends down. I eventually realised I had to change my way of thinking.
What prompted you to become active again? Last Autumn, I realised I was making myself ill by just sitting there and doing nothing. I wasn’t even dwelling on things, it was just pure emptiness. That was partly down to the nerve drugs I was taking; they were doing me more harm than good. I’d lost my character. I used to be so active – out from 5am until 10pm every day. I realised the way I was living was ridiculous. I could stay like that for the next 50 years and do absolutely nothing – or I could look at my old life, which I had loved, and get it back. I made a decision to come off all the drugs and get myself out of the house.
What did you do first? The Blesma Soldier Ride last October. I had a hand bike that I’d never really ridden. I thought; ‘I can make another excuse or I can go along, be the slowest, and get there in the end.’ And the whole ride was awesome! Some of the guys helped me – literally, with a push at times – and I helped some of them with the mental side of things. I immediately felt useful again. Then, last December, I went to Sportsable, an activities club in Maidenhead for people with disabilities, to give wheelchair basketball a go. Then I went skiing with Blesma to Colorado this January. It was then, when I was coming down a mountain on a mono ski, that I realised I could be good at something again. Coming off the drugs was like a fog lifting. I realised that the person who had sat around doing nothing wasn’t me.
You gave a speech at the recent Members’ Weekend. How did you find that? Nervy! I was petrified of speaking in front of so many people. The point I tried to get across was that I’d gone to the Members’ Weekend the previous year having just found out about Blesma. I’d sat there not wanting to put my name forward for anything. I want people to know that it’s OK to feel like that, because everybody gets down at some point in their lives. But I tried to offer some encouragement to anyone who was in that position to give something a go. You have no idea what it might kick-start. Regaining that attitude has helped me so much, and Blesma have been a massive part of that. I have rediscovered how to push my limits and boundaries, and I’ve even realised that I can be among the best in the world at something.
How were the Warrior Games in June? They were amazing! I won gold in the 50m freestyle, 50m breaststroke and 50m backstroke, and the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m on the track – as well as in the hand-cycling, shot put and discus. I was also in the wheelchair basketball team and trained with the volleyball team, although I was face-planting all over the place! I was so busy; up at 4am and back at 10pm. It was like my old life! I got that camaraderie back. I’m hoping to get selected for the Paralympics next year, and am part of Target Tokyo for 2020 as an archer. My main sport is swimming, but I don’t know if I’ve done enough classification events to qualify for Rio. I hope so, because I’m only three seconds off the world record!
What is it like to be a woman and a Blesma Member? When I was in the Army I was in an all-male unit, so I’m used to being around blokes. Obviously, there are fewer female Members but we pretty much all know each other. We can give a female perspective on things, and often chat and support each other with issues we might not discuss with the guys. But having said that, everyone in Blesma has been through similar situations, and the laughs I have with all the Members are great. The Association has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and the range of activities Blesma offers is fantastic. I recently did a tandem parachute jump, and now I want an even bigger adrenaline rush! I’ve seen some guys base jumping using wheelchairs, so I might give that a go!
You’re doing all sorts of activities outside of Blesma, aren’t you? Tell us about some of them...I coach wheelchair basketball at Sportsable now. I have a trained cat and dog, which I use for Pets As Therapy. I help children and adults who have communication, behavioural and emotional difficulties, both in schools and at Broadmoor Hospital. It’s a big buzz helping them, and it’s very satisfying – I’ve seen a child with selective mutism read a book to my dog! I also run a craft club at Sportsable, which has brought out a different side of me. I’ve done kayak surfing and waterskiing, and I’m planning a swim around Jersey. I’m training for about 40 hours a week, and I feel like myself again. I guess you could say I’ve found peace.
What advice would you give to Members who might be struggling to come to terms with their injuries, as you did not so long ago? As soon as you feel like pushing yourself forward, you really should just go for it. The longer you spiral down, the harder it can be to get back up. If you think you might be interested in trying something, do it. Remember, how you feel inside doesn’t reflect who you are. If you don’t like an activity, you haven’t lost anything. I’d also say to start off realistically. I decided to try to get myself out the house for just a few hours every day. If I’d tried to get out for 18 hours, I’d have set myself up for a fall. The first month is the hardest, so push on. You’ll soon find that you, your family, your friends and the local community can all benefit.
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