Students at Long Sutton’s Peele Community College got the chance to meet a silver medal winning athlete from this year’s Invictus Games.
The games, set up by Prince Harry, were created for servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries, both visible and invisible, while serving their countries.
And it was a privilege for students from year eight and nine to meet cyclist Wayne Harrod and hear the inspiring story behind his journey to the games at Toronto, Canada, in September.
Wayne (48), nicknamed ‘H,’ was injured in a military training exercise for Afghanistan in 2001.
He was serving in the army as a Platoon Sergeant in the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment (nicknamed ‘The Vikings’) when an armoured vehicle reversed over his left leg. It happened in the final phases of the exercise on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.
The accident caused a spiral fracture, completely breaking his leg, and despite rehabilitation and years trying to build back his strength he was in constant agonising pain.
I sit on the saddle and see how far it takes meWayne Harrod
He said: “There was a lot of damage to my leg and ankle. I continued serving in the army until 2011. After the accident I was able to stay in my role but I was in a lot of pain and you cannot do a lot; I could not play sport without pain.”
In 2004 he made the decision to have his leg amputated below the knee but said it was not, as some would believe, a difficult decision.
“It was crazy,” he said, “but when you are in a lot of pain, once the leg is gone, it’s gone.
“There is no more moaning. You re-adapt your lifestyle. My friends and family were supportive and understood why I did it.”
It was only after leaving the army that Wayne took up cycling for the first time as a way to get fit. He would cycle the 16 miles from his home in Isleham, near Ely, to work as a gardener at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Cambridge, and then cycle home again.
It soon became a passion and last year he took part in a speed cycling event for limbless veteran charity BLESMA. There he met GB hand cycling coach Andy Pink.
Wayne said: “He told me ‘you are fast. I can make you faster’ and he mentioned the Invictus Games.”
Although he’d never thought about entering the games, with Andy’s encouragement and expertise, Wayne embarked on an intensive training programme which took him all over the country.
He began practising sprint work, technical turning and slaloms. Cycling became his life and, in July this year, he got a phone call saying he was through to the games.
He said: “When I got that call I was elated. I could not believe it. It was jaw-dropping.”
He flew over to the games with family joining him as supporters.
“The atmosphere at the games was unreal,” Wayne said. “I also had my birthday there and went to Niagra Falls which made it even more special.”
Wayne won a silver medal for the time trial in his category at Hyde Park and came 5th out of 14 competitors in the Criterium race.
He was disappointed with his result in the Criterium but he still achieved 11 miles in 29 minutes.
He said: “I wasn’t tired but you get yourself in the wrong position in the final sprint.”
Now he’s got his eyes on the Invictus Games in Sydney next year. Plus, he wants to get into velodrome cycling and onto the international racing scene.
He said: “People use the word ‘a journey’ but for me it’s the whole part of getting to the games and what it meant for me.
“The school has been following and supporting the Invictus Games and I want to thank them for inviting me to talk to the pupils.”
Peele students have also supported Wayne in his fundraising for organisations including BLESMA, and The Poppy Factory which helps ex-servicemen and women with health challenges get back into work.
His fundraising challenges included the London to Paris ride and long distance rides around the country.
Wayne added: “I am not an ego head - I just sit on the saddle and see where it takes me.
“I have this passion and want to see how far I can push myself. There is a lot of self-determination.
“You have to do a lot of training but if you want it you can have it.”
Wayne didn’t get the chance to meet Prince Harry himself at the games but he said: “He is so passionate. All the resilience he has had to face with his tours, his family, being a royal and serving his country and supporting the veterans as part of their recovery - what he has done is fantastic.
“There was a really good atmosphere at the games because you have 17 nations as a family.
“You can talk to any nation, everybody has the same one ethos.”
Headteacher at The Peele Jane Moody said: “It was a real honour to have H visit us at The Peele, bringing the spirit of the Invictus Games with him. “Students were very excited to meet a real athlete and were fascinated by his stories, not just of his athletic career but also his time in the forces. We are hoping to continue working with him at The Peele so he can continue to inspire our students to aim high no matter what.”
And he certainly seems to have inspired the students to achieve their dreams.
In the school assembly on Thursday, October 12, he spoke of getting up in the early hours for 5.30am cycles in all weathers to get to his goal of being in the games.
And students were still talking about his visit the next day.