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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Llan man triumphs at Wounded Warrior games


* AJ Pingham with the four medals he won
at the Wounded Warrior games in Las Vegas.
 
A DISABLED ex-servicemen from Llangollen fought his way to four medals – including a gold – at the recent Wounded Warrior games in Las Vegas.
 
Representing Team Great Britain, 38-year-old Alistair Pingham – known as AJ to his friends – triumphed against the cream of disabled athletes from the UK, USA and Australia by storming to gold in the seated discus, silvers in both the shot put and wheelchair basketball and bronze in archery, all of which he tackled from the seated position.
 
* AJ Pingham, third from left, with fellow
members of the GB team in Las Vegas.
AJ, who is originally from Tamworth in Staffordshire and now lives with his wife Joy and their two children in Llangollen, has for the past three years been a teaching assistant in the pupil support unit at Ysgol Dinas Bran in the town.
 
He spent four and a half years serving in the Royal Navy as a marine engineer mechanic, and he says it was the amount of his sport he played during that time that led directly to his disability.
 
AJ said: “I’d been playing hockey for 18 years and played even more when I joined the navy. In fact, I was captain of the navy’s hockey team for three years.
 
“The result of all this was that the ligaments in both my ankles started to deteriorate.
 
“I had an operation in which they attempted to rebuild them. They re-routed tendons from the back, near the achilles tendon, by drilling holes through my ankle bones.
 
“That helped for a time but it also gave me arthritis which has gradually eaten through the cartilage in my ankles to the point where they can’t be replaced.
 

* AJ competes in the archery
“I now find walking quite painful. I use a stick and have a specially adapted car.”
 
After leaving the navy, AJ took a job as a lecturer at the former Yale College in Wrexham but was forced to leave that when his disability became too acute.
 
He is now at Ysgol Dinas Bran which he praised for putting in a number of disabled aids to help him do his job.
 
AJ decided to resume his passion for sport as a way of trying to regain a normal life.
 
For a number of years he has played for Chester’s wheelchair basketball team, Cheshire Phoenix, and started his fightback to frontline sport by winning selection for the British team in the inaugural Invictus Games started for injured ex-service personnel by Prince Harry and held last September.
 
He won a gold medal for his country in wheelchair basketball after beating off strong competition from teams from across the world.
 
AJ then overcame a tough selection process to become one of just 21 disabled ex-service athletes chosen to represent Team GB in the Wounded Warrior games staged at the Nellis air force base near Las Vegas in Nevada earlier this month.
   
It was a week of intense competition which saw over 100 athletes, all injured in some way while serving with their countries’ armed forces, taking part in everything from basketball and volleyball to archery, swimming and rifle shooting.
 
While Team GB took a total of 47 medals in all disciplines, AJ came home with an incredible haul of four medals.
 
He said: “It was a fantastic occasion and I was honoured to be part of the team sent over to the States by the charity Help for Heroes.
 

* AJ's fantastic medal haul of four.
“I’m really enjoying myself competing and it’s nice to be able to push yourself to the limit.
 
“I think every injured service person suffers from some form of depression because of the things they suddenly can’t do any more but competing has helped me to beat that depression.
 
“In fact, my wife says that she’s now got her husband back.”
 
AJ is currently training six days a week with the aim of reaching the GB trials for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, when he has an eye on competing in rowing, shot put, seated discus and archery.
 
He also hopes to take part in next year’s second Invictus Games, which are due to be held in the USA.
 
But before all that he has another major hurdle to overcome when both of his feet are amputated to help rid him of his problem ankles.
 
Incredibly, AJ says he’s looking forward to the surgery, planned for some time later this year.
 
He explained: “It will open up a lot of new doors for me as far as competing is concerned, like being able to get blades for running and prosthetics for rock climbing.
 
“When you have pain every day like I have anything to improve your standard of life has to be welcomed.
 
“My son Luke, who is 11 and at Ysgol Bryn Collen, has told me that when I go for a run for the first time after having my feet amputated he’ll be running alongside me.”
 
The purpose-built wheelchair AJ uses for competition was supplied by Help for Heroes but to enable him to continue competing at the highest levels, he is currently on the lookout for a sponsorship deal. 
 
* He can be contacted through Ysgol Dinas Bran on 01978 860669.

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