Gary Pettit, the founder of Penrith Pumas Wheelchair Rugby Club, provides a powerful insight into his battle with mental health problems and shows how connecting with others and participating in physical activity has helped him overcome some of life’s biggest challenges. Read the blog post below…
A bit about myself, I joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16, December 4th 1989 in fact. It was a straightforward service with me unfortunately spending several years active in the Bosnia conflict followed by the Gulf conflict. In 1993 I sustained a pretty significant left knee injury which progressively got worse until my medical discharge on February 12th 2000. This was a day that kind of started the downfall of my life, getting into trouble quiet a few times with the police and, after corrective surgery in 2011, life hit a real rock bottom and I was looking at a custodial sentence due to my terrible actions whilst on crutches and in recovery from said surgery.
At this point, the now ex-wife, her daughters and myself left the area and started a new life in County Durham, this however didn’t happen and once again life carried on in a downward motion to the point that we split and got a divorce. I moved out and got a place of my own and in hindsight this was probably not the best way to go as now I had a perfect reason to isolate myself from the world. This is where the drinking started to numb the pain, alongside a cocktail of pain killers. This went only one way I’m afraid to say and the drinking became more a way of life than a pleasure. I went to see the doctor for some help and was told I have PTSD and depression is a major part so I was prescribed a course of anti-depressants, this was fantastic but it went the wrong way along with another bottle of spirits and it resulted in me being admitted to hospital to have a months’ worth of painkillers and antidepressants pumped from my stomach.
In 2015 I got some life changing help for Future for Heroes based in Ambleside at Brathay Hall, this was a 4 day opportunity to learn about myself and how to reframe the bad in my life to a positive. The good thing is I was with other veterans who were in the same boat. It made me realise I wasn’t alone and there was hope. I now have a lot to do with the charity and a few years ago, after making life do a complete 360°, I was asked to become the “Official photographer” for F4H.
After this, I looked at other charities and low and behold there was loads out there, so I made the most of it and now I’m in constant contact with F4H, H4H, and The Not Forgotten Association. A lad who I served with for many years competed in the Invictus Games in 2017 and since then has had his leg amputated. After watching the Invictus Games 2018 in Sydney, I spoke to Mark Ormrod and my friend Kirk Hughes and I was so inspired and overwhelmed about their journey and how they had overcome their issues to both win medals and represent their country, it made me think I need to do this, so I did.
I sent the email and signed up for Team UK and the journey has begun … I attended an Invictus Open Day Hub at Manchester Velodrome on the 19th January where I met some amazing people and spoke in depth about the sports I was hoping to do. I have chosen to apply for Rowing, Cycling, Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Rugby with Archery as a possible back up. I was told I was a natural at sitting volleyball and this gave me a serious boost. I was very anxious about going as I’m not good with meeting new people and crowds. Not once did I feel out my comfort zone and I was made to feel so welcome. I’ve been going to the Riverside Gym every morning at 0700 since I signed up last year up until last week (22nd January) as I’ve finally had a full complex left knee replacement, this is a positive as I’m now pain free and fingers crossed I’ll be back to light training next week and back on my path of selection. There are a few criteria I need to follow to the letter; I have a 3 day training camp in May and again in June, I must attend these to qualify for a week’s training/pre selection mini games in Sheffield in July. If I don’t attend the 3 day camps I won’t be eligible for Sheffield and if I don’t attend Sheffield I wont be in with any chance of selection. Selection is in September and if I get the honour and privilege of being one of the few selected then we up the training and I go to “The Hauge” to represent Invictus Team UK in 2020.
Unfortunately, Gary didn’t get chosen for the Invictus Games this year but is determined to try again for the next Invictus Games. In the meantime, Gary is focusing all his efforts on the Penrith Pumas with the hope of putting a team forward in January for the Wheelchair Rugby League.
Thank you Gary for sharing your recovery journey with us, hopefully the insight you have provided will help and inspire others!