Emotions were overflowing at the Royal Botanic Garden as French cyclists Benjamin Bouquet and Cedric Arci helped Poland’s Jakub Tynka across the line. Despite suffering terrible leg pain that felt ‘like electricity through my muscle’, the former soldier refused to surrender in the Criterium final with 20 minutes of racing still remaining.
Tynka soaked up the support of his French colleagues and the crowd, who clapped and cried and urged the trio on. But the voice he heard loudest in his mind was that of his late father, Waldemar Tynka, who was his mentor and hero. And Waldemar’s voice still rings loud as Tynka prepares for the sport that means the most to him – the swimming which starts on Tuesday at 9.30am at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre.
“I rode almost 20 minutes with one leg. But my father taught me that to give up is not an option,” said Tynka. “These words helped me to finish the race. It also helped me after Afghanistan, to return to service.”
Returning to service seemed a ridiculous proposition when he was hit by an anti-tank bullet while searching for improvised explosive devices just outside of the town of Gazni in July 2012. The bullet pierced his neck, missing an artery by millimetres on the way in and his spine by millimetres on the way out.
“I was really lucky,” he said. “Because it was an anti-tank bullet, it went through my body was like butter.”
Luck is a matter of perspective, of course. Tynka suffered multiple injuries, including severe nerve damage, internal bleeding and broken ribs. Death was close. But, again, as his father had told him, giving up was not an option.
Two years of rehabilitation followed before he returned to his company. However, the legacy proved too restrictive and he now contributes to his nation’s defense from behind a desk.
“The doctors said ‘it’s enough’. My shoulder, elbow, my backbone, my left eye were all damaged,” he said.
Tynka’s father was there for part of his son’s recovery before cancer claimed his life last year. A professional swimmer in his prime, Waldemar was a Polish national champion in butterfly and freestyle. Tynka says his father would have loved to see him compete in swimming at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.
“My starts here, as a swimmer or a cyclist, are for him because he’s my hero,” said Tynka. “Unfortunately, he lost his last fight. But I really want to jump into the pool and just swim. Not to win – because of my leg, I cannot – just to swim for him and my wife, who is here. I think my father would be proud of me. I think he’s watching me from above all the time. I think he would love to see me swim here.”
Invictus Games Sydney 2018