Debbie O’Connell from the United Kingdom was discharged from Royal Horse Artillery in 2017, and one year later she was having a fantastic day one of competition at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover.
She loved her job as a gunner in the King’s Troop but a fall from a horse badly damaged her shoulder and she was left with a paralysed arm. That also meant she lost her job.
“When the injury happened, I thought my life was finished,” she told UK television channel ITV before leaving home.
“I lost my identity and my ability, and training for the Invictus Games has picked me up. It’s really forced me on and its proved to me that actually I am still worth something and I have still got some drive and the determination to do it.”
The 30-year-old from Lincoln in central England, won her division of the road cycling time trial. O’Connell’s triumph puts an exclamation mark on all she’s been through.
“It’s everything I thought it would be and more,” she said with the Union Jack draped proudly around her shoulders. “It’s a very competitive but healthy and friendly between all the nations.”
The excitement of the Opening Ceremony the night before, where an electrical storm delayed the finish by an hour, made O’Connell a little weary.
“I got a little bit of sleep. The Opening Ceremony kept us a little later than we’d planned because we had an early start.
“But the excitement and adrenalin kept me going. The course was fast – very fast – with a few cheeky little hills in there to catch you out,” she said of the 2.4km circuit past the NSW Art Gallery, down to Lady Macquarie’s Chair and back again.
The turn at the famous Lady Macquarie’s viewpoint was so tight, there were several layers of padded bags to collect wavering cyclists
“But it was really enjoyable, and the crowds are amazing. They seemed to pick out the hard points on the course and stood exactly where you needed them,” O’Connell said.
“They were very encouraging – it was an amazing turnout.”
It was a big day of road cycling on the Sunday with competitors from 14 of the 18 nations at the Games.
Not one, but a succession of injuries, forced Townsville’s Tom Grover from the Australian Army after a 20-year career. He joined in 1996 as an Infantryman and served in Malaysia; East Timor; in the Sinai; and in Afghanistan. He was discharged in 2016.
And on Sunday Grover became the host nation’s first medallist in road cycling with a silver in his IRB3 (regular bike) category behind gold medallist Andrew White (UK) and ahead of Denys Fishchuk (Ukraine, bronze).
“Now that I’ve got a medal I’d like to get one for my teammate Jason McNaulty, because we’ve been training together for a long time,” said Grover.
McNaulty finished 5th in the time trial and a few laps from the criterium was forced to pull out due to a mechanical issue. Grover managed to win his second silver medal for the day and one for his friend. Grover competed at the 2017 Toronto Invictus Games but did not medal there.
The conditions tested all competitors in the 10 classes with light drizzle, then gusty winds and warm sunshine started to break through as the day went on.
“The weather conditions sort of slowed your speed down a bit due to the wind,” Grover said.
“The tail wind was alright but since you got around the corner you had to go pretty hard to cut through the wind on the way back and those hills.
“There’s a few little hills that tested your legs anyway. It just meant you were in a bit of pain as you were approaching the finish line.”
But it was so worth it to have the silver medal placed around his neck.
“I’m only in the two cycling events so soon I can put my feet up and cheer everyone else on,” he said.
The cyclists from Team USA had a great Sunday, winning five of the 10 gold medals on offer in the time trial. The UK claimed four gold in the time trial, with France’s David Travadon breaking the stranglehold by winning his recumbent (lying down) bike category.
Invictus Games Sydney 2018