An ex-Red Arrows survival equipment specialist who suffered the devastating trauma of seeing a colleague killed in a crash has shown great strength, and is now preparing to compete as vice-captain of Team UK at the Invictus Games.
David Morris is the Vice Captain of Team UK for the Invictus Games, which is being held in The Hague in the Netherlands between April 16 and 22. Rachel Williamson, from just over the border in Rutland, was unveiled as Team UK’s first female Captain.
The Invictus Games have been held since being created by Prince Harry, HRH The Duke of Sussex, in 2014. Wounded, injured or sick military personnel and their associated veterans take part in a series of adaptive sports.
Lincolnshire competitors joining David in the team are Tom Folwell, Lucy Holt and Dan Tasker, and The Lincolnite spoke to the quartet, who have taken part in training camps delivered by Help for Heroes to prepare them for the international competition. The Games were cancelled due to COVID in 2020, and the competitors are now eager to get out and compete.
David Morris – Sleaford (Vice Captain – swimming & discus)
David was born in Peterborough but moved to Sleaford as a teenager and classes himself as a Lincolnshire lad.
He first joined the Royal Air Force in May 2000, working in the main bay as a technician at RAF Waddington. After working at RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland and RAF Odiham in Hampshire, he joined the Red Arrows in 2010 as a survival equipment specialist, where he stayed until 2015.
Sadly, on November 8, 2011 David had what he described as the “worst day of my life” when he witnessed his colleague and friend Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham involved in a fatal crash. Cunningham, 35, was injured after being ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft, but his parachute and ejection seat did not deploy, and he later sadly died in hospital from his injuries.
The tragic incident caused a lot of anxiety for David, who said at one point was “scared of my own shadow” and “started to make excuse why I couldn’t leave the house”.
Davi, who is now 42, continued to go out work but realised his whole personality had changed. While he was on attachment in Cyprus at the end of 2013, he was called back to deliver evidence at Sean’s inquest before being diagnosed with PTSD the following year.
He said that going through everything again caused “flashbacks and nightmares that were horrendous”, but that he is a stubborn person who decided he would “refuse to let this beat me”. The Invictus Games had a big impact on him after his brother Anthony persuaded him to apply and try out for the competition.
He moved to work in the armed forces careers office between 2015 and 2020. Since then he has been working as a case officer in the ‘rejoiners’ team at RAF Cranwell, helping people who have left or who are transferring from other forces.
He said: “I think what helped me when I left the Red Arrows was the recruitment roles as it took me away from the direct situation and any triggers, but still allowed me to stay in the forces. I have almost reached my 22 year point when I will finish in the RAF [in May 2022].”
David is using the tough experiences he has been through to help others reach their potential in his role as Vice Captain of Team UK, during the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018 and for the upcoming 2022 competition.
He said: “Being Vice Captain is incredible.When I first started out I was petrified of everything and being a Vice Captain has been big for me, watching other people progress and helping them realise their potential and overcome things.”
At the 2018 Invictus Games, David got a personal best in the four minute endurance rowing with a distance of 996 metres, and also in the breaststroke swimming event.
At The Hague this year, he will be competing in the 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke and swimming team relay, as well as the discus as he “wanted to give something new a go”.
David’s Staffordshire-based brother Anthony Morris will be competing in various events, including 100 metres, rowing and powerlifting. David added: “It’s good because we watch each other and it’s a great support, and it’s pretty special competing together.”
Lucy Holt – Digby (wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, powerlifting and seated throws)
Lucy is from Digby, which is around six miles from Sleaford, and a sports injury she suffered back in 2016 led to her being medically discharged from the RAF.
Lucy was playing netball for the Royal Air Force when she landed awkwardly on her ankle. She saw a number of physios and it was discovered that she had a 7.5cam tear in her perineum tendon that wasn’t picked up on initial scans.
She also damaged other ligaments in her ankle and has since had seven operations on her foot and is due to have more surgery later this year.
It meant that the 29-year-old could no longer run or jump and she said: “I felt like I was never going to be able to do sport again, which felt like it for me and something I had to adapt to, but mentally it was very hard as I’ve always done sport. It took a toll on my mental health.”
Prior to her injury Lucy worked as a steward in the officers’ messes at various different locations in the UK, including RAF Digby in Lincolnshire. She now works as a corporate support officer at Lincoln County Hospital.
In 2017, Lucy went to a sports session in Nottingham to see if she was eligible for the Invictus Games, and was also lucky enough to be selected for the Warrior Games in USA that year.
After her first operation in 2018, the blood supply was damaged in her ankle and at one point she was scared she might lose her foot. She had further surgery in 2019 and it was “touch and go” if she would be able to apply for the Invictus Games, but she plucked up the courage and applied anyway.
Wheelchair basketball became her new netball as she “loved being back in the team sport and having the camaraderie”. She wanted to do individual sports as well and will also compete in indoor rowing, powerlifting, and seated throws.
Lucy said: “I am really confident and excited. It’s been a long process so I’m glad it’s now in sight and being out there competing with other countries, and other members of the military across the world, will be an amazing atmosphere.
“It feels amazing to be part of Team UK and have the United Kingdom back on our chest. We have done our service in the military and to represent again is incredible.
“My husband and son will come out to the Games with me, and my mum and step dad, who have all encouraged me which means a lot.
“My son Harvey is eight and has been through this whole process with me and seen me at my worst with my injuries. He’s my biggest inspiration and if I can prove to him that having a tisalbity doesn’t stop you and you can feel invincible.”
Tom Folwell – Horncastle (wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball)
Tom, 36, is from a village near Horncastle and was a former sapper in the army between 2003 and 2015.
While on foot patrol in Helmand Province in June 2012 Tom said he stood on an IED and got blown up, losing both his legs and all four fingertips on his left hand.
He said: “I knew I couldn’t change it and tried to get on with life and deal with it. I had rehab with the army for three years before being medically discharged.
“My wife who is a teacher took a year out and we went on a few holidays together. I applied for the Sydney Invictus Games in 2018 and was determined not to give up.
“I tried again for 2020 but that was cancelled. Because it’s been cancelled twice I won’t get excited until I’m there. I’m keeping my medal targets close to my chest as I don’t want to jinx it.”
Tom said the training camp for the 2022 Invictus Games went “really well” and he will be competing in the wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and sitting volleyball events.
He added: “I would advise anyone to just go for it [Invictus Games] and sign up, as whether you get selected or not, it is still a great experience doing the training camps.
“A lot of people when they leave the forces don’t have a clue what they will do, and the Invictus Games helps to give that support and give people back something that they lost. The Invictus Games has been huge and helped me get back into sport.”
Dan Tasker – Market Rasen (athletics and cycling)
Dan, 40, is from Market Rasen he worked as a survival equipment technician looking after life-saving equipment for the aircraft at RAF Cottesmore from 2001.
He also worked with the Harriers at RAF Waddington looking after everything from escape slides and multi-sea life rafts, to oxygen equipment and night vision goggles.
From 2013 he was based at RAF Marham in Norfolk and after packing a life raft, and taking part in physical battlefield training, he suffered a a repetitive strain injury in his wrist.
The injury continued to get worse and affected both his personal and work alike. He said he struggled to do bath time for his son who was under one at the time as it was too painful, and the doctor later found evidence of a trauma based injury in his ligaments, although it was unclear what had caused it.
Dan had wrist reconstruction surgery in 2015 but said his body has never fully recovered from that and he also suffers from complex regional pain syndrome in his hand, arm and shoulder.
He said there isn’t much more doctors can do and he is on medication full-time to control the pain, but he has learnt to adapt to life and is looking forward to competing in his first ever Invictus Games.
He said: “There’s still a lot I can’t do. I can’t do a heavy manual job so my work would have to be office based. I can’t drive a manual car, and need my wife’s help with shoe laces, but Invictus Games and Help For Heroes have helped me adapt to life.
“This is my chance to show my son Logan that I can still do things and be someone he can still be proud of. I also want to show him that even if you don’t come in first, even if you come last, you can still get a sense of enjoyment out of taking part.
“Now that Logan is older, he’ll be eight this year, he’s a lot more independent and I can enjoy more with him now without fear of not being able to do something. I wouldn’t have progressed as far as I have without the support of my wife Amanda, who has pushed and driven me.
“My anxiety has nearly go the better at times and she’s pushed me through. She’s been my rock, not just through the Invictus programme, but through my recovery and helping me through the dark times.”
Dan joined the Invictus Games programme after meeting captain Rachel Williamson at a rehabilitation course run by the British Legion. After attending an Invictus Games taster day there was no looking back and he was determined to apply, and was successful.
He has always loved cycling and has learnt to adapt to using a recumbent bike instead of an off-road one. At the Invictus Games 2022, he will be competing in the time trial and criterium cycling events, as well as in the athletics – 400m, 1500m, and 4x100m relay.
Dan, who is also part of the Lincoln Wellington Athletics Club, said: “There is a lot of nerves and anxiety, but it feels good to finally be in a position when the Games will definitely be going ahead, a culmination of two years hard work and delays to finally get out and perform.
“I feel very honoured and humble to be selected to be part of the team. When I was injured and I was medically discharged from the air force I felt like a discarded broken thing and lost my identity, and my injury took a lot away from me.
“With that I lost a lot of confidence and pride in myself and a negative effect of how I thought my family saw me. I had gone from serving my country and being part of something I’d always been proud to be part of, to everything being taken away and changed.
“Being part of the Invictus programme has given me my confidence back and made me proud. It recused me from dark places and gave me a sense of purpose. The experience right from the start with Invictus has been incredible and bigger than I ever thought it would be. The support we’ve had from coaches, competitors, and people from Help For Heroes has been incredible and opened my eyes to joining an athletics team.
“When you’re part of the military it is like being part of a family. With the Invictus team we get that sense of belonging, it’s almost like a family with the ethos again that you get in the military.”