A former Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery has shared how his life has improved since he began swimming with the support of Help for Heroes Community Recovery team in Wales…

Jim Whitworth, 47, lives in Merthyr Tydfil and won 4 gold medals after he took up swimming through the charity in 2017. Jim, who has spinal injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following his service, encouraged other veterans who may benefit from Help for Heroes’ support to come forward.

He said: “People do alienate themselves within the four walls, the walls close in and they get very isolated. The hardest thing for anyone in that situation is making that first step to go out the door. Everybody is on a different journey, everyone has different things to deal with and cope with, physical or mental, but the one thing I would say is just try it, the staff are there to support you.”

Jim started swimming at Help for Heroes sessions in Newport Sports Village because his back injury made other exercise difficult. “I really wasn’t a swimmer,” he says, “But swimming is good because being in the water really helped just getting me moving again. At first, I could barely do a length and I was gasping for breath but, slowly but surely, we increased it, and it was great.”

A highlight for Jim was being selected to take part in the US Airforce Trials in Las Vegas in February, where he won 4 gold medals, but he says Sports Recovery is about more than competing – simply taking part in physical activity has had a dramatic impact on his wellbeing.

He says: “Before I started swimming I was a mess basically, physically and mentally. I was a lot heavier than I am now and engaging with Sports Recovery and knowing what you can and can’t do impacts on your mental health, as we all know.”

He said: “Exercising in a civilian gym or pool can be quite intimidating, when you’ve put on a load of weight and you’re unfit, uncomfortable with yourself and uncomfortable in general, it’s a hard thing to do, but coming into the Sports Recovery environment pretty much everyone is in the same boat, people understand, so it doesn’t make a difference and that encourages you to engage in more activities.”

Jim wants anyone who thinks they may benefit from Sports Recovery to find out what’s available to them and get started on their recovery journey: “Even if you only put your swimming costume on and get in the pool for 10 minutes, just feeling that water on your body will be a massive difference and have a massive impact because you’ve achieved something, and those little steps turn into big steps.

“Engaging with anything that is going to give you some form of exercise is going to help your mental health massively. What’s good with the whole Sports Recovery thing, is you’re around people that have served, like-minded people. The staff are brilliant, and you get that support and the camaraderie you miss when you leave the military.”

Sports Recovery sessions take place every week at Newport Sports Village and Nuffield Health in Bridgend. The Sports Recovery team also organises additional activities and events across Wales.

For further information contact: Wales.supporthub@helpforheroes.org.uk