Andy Phillips served in the RAF for 10 years but sustained a career-ending back injury during the Gulf War. He was medically discharged in 1993 but struggled to find work that he could do with his injury. Two decades on and he is about to compete in his second Invictus Games having secured a gold medal in archery at the 2014 event.
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“I joined up in 1983 – I wanted to work with aircraft. My career was going pretty well but I started getting a lot of pain in my back and by the time I came home from the first Gulf War I could hardly walk. They did a lot of tests and it turned out I had had a slipped disc for about a year and it had done an awful lot of damage. I was about a month in hospital and 18 months in and out of Headley Court and I was finally discharged in 1993.
“There wasn’t really any support back then. I was married at the time and we ended up in a homeless hostel in Warminster for a while but we eventually managed to get a council house. I worked in reprographics for a few years and then started doing kitchens and bathrooms but found I was using alcohol and prescription drugs more and more for pain relief and it wasn’t a great time. In the end I got my war pension reassessed which made life much easier.
“I used to sit at home feeling sorry for myself but since taking up archery I feel much more positive and I’m struggling to find time to do anything! I hadn’t done archery before they announced the Invictus Games but I’m 50 now (48 then) and obviously there were a lot of young guys looking to compete so I looked at the sports and decided archery might be one where I had a chance.
“First time around we just thought the Games was going to be quite low key but during the build up it escalated and suddenly we were going to the Olympic Park and we were going to be live on TV. It was a bit of a shock for most of us! It was a really positive experience for me. I was clearly bitter and angry with the military and I didn’t even realise it but 20 years later I was representing the Armed Forces and my gold medal felt like a more fitting end to my military career. It’s allowed me to move forward and take advantage of the new opportunities that have opened up for me. I have hit the archery really hard for the last 18 months and competed all over the country.
“The only way to get to the level you need to be at to compete was to chuck everything at it. I wanted to be competitive – the best that I can be. I avoid using a wheelchair whenever possible. I think the more you depend on them the more likely you are to lose mobility. However I do use a wheelchair to compete and it allows me to do stuff I would never be able to do ordinarily. I look at it as a tool.
“This time around I needed new arrows so I talked to a SSAFA caseworker who applied for funding on my behalf. I had been shooting with quite basic standard arrows and up until that stage the arrows were better than me but I was getting to the point where I needed to invest in competition arrows. Rupert came to see me and filled out all the forms and also took a genuine interest in what I’m doing.
“I’m really looking forward to competing in the US. We are all in it together and that’s a real strength when you are competing. Obviously you want to beat the guys you are competing against but they are also your friends. It’s a strange environment to be in and hopefully this time around we will be better prepared for it!”