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JJ Chalmers Sport gave me new purpose, says disabled war hero

The Scotsman recalled how he won the award in somewhat controversial circumstances in London.

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JJ Chalmers (L) presents at the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 play

JJ Chalmers (L) presents at the Invictus Games Orlando 2016

(Getty/AFP/File)

Sport gave JJ Chalmers a new lease of life which culminated in his winning gold at the 2014 Invictus Games just three years after the then-Royal Marine lay seriously wounded in Afghanistan.

The Scotsman -- who was speaking at the Beyond Sport summit, a leading movement for sport for social change -- recalled how he won the award in somewhat controversial circumstances in London.

The Invictus Games -- the brainchild of Prince Harry -- are an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel from all round the world.

Competing in a cycle race -- the men's recumbent circuit race -- he described how unorthodox teamwork paid off.

"We (he and two fellow former British servicemen) worked together because like in the military you look after the soldier next to you and he or she looks after you," said Chalmers.

"I recall hearing the commentator saying with 10 minutes to go 'who's going to be the one to leave his friends behind?'

"We decided all of us would cross the line together hand in hand. The BBC weren't very happy and Prince Harry said to us privately 'you idiots!' but they gave us all gold medals."

It was a happier ending than the initial challenge he set himself at the Games which was the 100 metres.

"I lined up...and in lane one there was a French Paralympian. I said to myself 'right if I beat him I'm on for the Paralympics'.

"However, once the starters gun went, reality bit as he disappeared down the track leaving me for dust! My Paralympics dream as an athlete went with that too!"

Chalmers, who did make the Paralympics this year in Rio but as a presenter for the British broadcaster Channel Four, had travelled a long way from the time he was caught in an explosion of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in 2011.

"It wasn't a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time because I was searching a compound for IEDs and putting them out of action," he said.

"So there I was at one o'clock in the afternoon, two months into my tour of duty, scouring the place for them.

"You are 100 percent at risk because they are crudely made bombs and can catch you out. You know every step is a risk.

-- Hit by a train --

"Next thing I know I am on my back and in pain you could barely believe.

"It felt like I'd been hit by a train, one of my friends had stood on a device and the shrapnel from it tore me to pieces."

Chalmers suffered a broken neck, severe facial and leg injuries and underwent 30 operations in all -- some lasting over 12 hours -- but miraculously lost just a couple of fingers.

It was while lying in his hospital bed back in England Chalmers made the decision to use sport as a way of beginning life all over.

"Well, plan A, B and C had gone out the window," he said.

"I had two options: stay lying in that bed, or get up.

"I had two friends killed in the blast so I said to myself make the most of this second chance -- you have got yourself a golden lottery ticket."

Chalmers, who three years later had a house and was engaged to be married, said competing and then presenting sport had proved him right in choosing option two.

"Sport has changed my life, and continues to today," he said.

"It is like a drug. It is not for myself but to honour those who didn't come home.

"Like my friend Dave Henson (Paralympic bronze medallist this year and also wounded in an IED blast) says 'kick the arse out of life'."

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