After narrowly missing out on a place in the Commonwealth Games swimming team as a teenager, Rachel Williamson decided to give the sport up for good. Now, though, the former RAF medic is preparing to represent the UK in the pool at the 2018 Invictus Games, thanks to the support of her SSAFA mentor.
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Rachel, 29, joined the RAF straight out of college as a PTI before later training as a medic. She served more than 10 years before injury caused a premature end to her service career. "One day I was in work full time and the next day I was told I was out," explains Rachel. "I never wore uniform again. That was hard to take.
“All I did originally was sprain my right thumb but I never regained the movement. I now have no function in my right arm and a severe tremor. I have no grip in my hand so I have had to relearn to do everything with my left arm."
It was during Rachel's resettlement package in December 2016 that she was offered a SSAFA mentor to support her through the transition to civilian life. She received her medical discharge in February 2018 and has been working with SSAFA volunteer mentor Simon Goodwin since March.
Rachel says: "The RAF was my only job so I had never even had a CV or had to adapt to real life. My injury changes everything too. The SSAFA mentoring service was offered to me by my PRO. Initially I thought it wasn't really for me but then I decided I should give it a go. I’m glad I did.
"I still see my mentor Simon every week. If it wasn’t for him I would not even have applied for the job I have now got or gone to the Invictus trials. His advice has been so helpful. He has helped me prepare for interviews and given me advice on life in general. He will always help me to find the positive in every negative. I really needed the mentoring because I think I was digging myself into a bit of a hole.
“One of the great things I’ve found about mentoring is that I can share my worries about life in general with someone without having to burden my family.”
With Simon’s support, Rachel has not only succeeded in winning a coveted place on the UK Invictus Games team, she has also landed a job at the new DNRC at Stanford Hall.
“I was swimming at quite a high standard as a teenager so it has been hard adapting to do sport with one arm. But with Simon’s encouragement I did the trials and did really well and it’s gone on from there. Now I’m selected for swimming and indoor rowing and I’m off to Sydney!"
Rachel started a new administrative job at DNRC in August 2018, working in the same department she was treated in at the Headley Court facility, and using the knowledge she gained as an RAF medic.
She says: “I’m lucky that I do see the positive in most things and I have just had to bite the bullet and get on with things - but I wouldn’t have achieved half what I have without Simon’s support."