12 November 2018

Teaching assistant Nick Martin was chosen to compete in the Invictus Games in Sydney - he has written about how he came to be selected for the games and his extraordinary experiences in Australia as he competed as part of the cycling team. 

In 1982, as a young Royal Naval rating, I was dropped by helicopter onto SS Atlantic Conveyor, a huge container ship. It was part of the task force, sent 8000 miles to liberate the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Two days later the ship was hit by Argentine missiles. She immediately caught fire and was crippled. I was injured and was helped over the side into the icy water. Friends helped me into a life raft and eventually we were picked up by a British warship. 
After time at a field hospital (actually a makeshift hospital in an old meat packing factory) and on board a hospital ship, I was brought back to the UK to recover.
My experiences ‘down South’ meant that I was eligible to be a Help For Heroes beneficiary. This meant that I was also eligible to apply to compete in The Invictus Games



This time last year I was inspired to apply to compete. The process is quite involved. I completed the initial forms in February. Then, in April, I was told that I had secured a spot at the trials, in May, at Bath. I began training in the College’s fitness suite, particularly using the cycle machine.
Three days before the trials I decided that buying a race bike was a good idea. I was lucky enough to find a second-hand one locally. When I competed in the trials I didn’t even know how to change gear properly or how to set the bike up to fit me. I came in last place and assumed that my chance had gone. I also trialled for the sitting volleyball squad but was unsuccessful. I didn’t ever expect to get an email saying:‘"Congratulations! You have made the UK Invictus Games team for Sydney 2018."
I began training seriously, getting up at 0500 to get an hour of head-down, high-intensity sprint racing on the running track at Brickfields. I also found several other, traffic-free spots to train.
I increased my time in the fitness suite and started swimming before work, often cycling from 0515 for 90 minutes, swimming for 45 minutes before coming into College. Then, at 1500 I would hit the fitness suite until my legs and arms felt like jelly. 

A week before the flight, our kit arrived, it was beginning to get real. 
Then, I travelled up to Heathrow with kit bags and bikes in tow. The reception at the airport was fantastic. As we all began to gather at Terminal 5 videos began to be shown around the concourse. We had photos taken with the British Airways staff. Our kit was labelled and sent out to the aircraft. We were bussed out to have our team photo taken on the steps of a specially liveried airplane. We were then returned to a luxurious lounge to relax and have other sets of photos and interviews done. eventually, we boarded for our 25-hour flight.
We arrived in Sydney to hundreds of volunteers welcoming us, along with TV and radio presenters, a band from the local police force playing for us. Later that evening we all attended a reception at an art gallery right next to the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was held by the British High Commissioner to Australia.
We arrived by ferry for the opening ceremony at Sydney Opera House. I was even allowed to take the helm, until I pointed out that the last time I was at sea we were sunk! After a 90-minute delay while a huge storm passed over, we docked. The walk up to the venue was lined by Australian servicemen and women, all applauding and congratulating us. When we arrived at the end of the road, our friends and families were there to greet us. It was magical! I finally got to see my daughter and grandchildren who live in Australia. After waiting below for everyone to be seated, the teams were introduced in alphabetical order. The UK came out to the biggest cheer of the night.

The ceremony was a mixture of speeches, music and films. Prince Harry, as usual, made a speech that was inspiring.
The next morning the games started. We cyclists had the honour of being the first of all the sports to compete. The first race was a time trial, one, 2.5km lap of the Botanical Gardens. The route was lined with thousands of supporters from all countries. Flags were everywhere and the noise was tremendous. I had time to find my family and give them hugs and kisses. 
I was the fifth to go and the first from the UK. I was introduced as: "Nick Martin, representing the UK, at 62, he is the oldest cyclist competing today".
I watched the clock count down and then pushed off as fast as I could. In the Time Trial, you set off at one-minute intervals and race against the clock. It was a beautiful course and the crowd were amazing. There were loudspeakers and big screens around the course and I was amazed that everyone seemed to be cheering my name. I managed to smash my personal best by 38 seconds and I didn’t get overtaken. That was two ticks on my racing bucket list. 
Later, I raced in the road race in my category. I was up against paralympians and other amazing cyclists, some had been racing at a high level for years.
After 200m I glanced behind as we got to a bend in the road. I realised that I was in last place! Over the next 15 minutes, I managed to get back in contention and began overtaking others. Eventually, I qualified for the final in 7th place.
Unfortunately, I thought that I was nowhere near to qualifying so went off to find my family and do some interviews. I missed the final!!!!
The rest of the week was spent sightseeing and watching the other sports. The atmosphere at all the venues was incredible. I watched some of the most inspirational athletes on the planet. The sportsmanship and camaraderie was second to none.
The closing ceremony was wonderful. Again, we entered a stadium in team order and the reception was electric. More speeches and awards were given. One of the UK team proposed to his carer/girlfriend, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex gave fantastic speeches and a great time was had by all. 
I have learned an awful lot about myself over the past few months. I have changed my perception of what I am able to do and what I want to do moving forward. I have already registered my interest in competing again at the next games, in 2020 at The Hague in Holland. That should give me the impetus and goals to improve my life. This time, though, I will be trying out for lots more sports. I feel a medal coming my way!