Team True Spirit: I can and I will

Talk about character. Jennie Brolin, an exercise rehabilitation instructor at DMRC Headley Court, a treatment centre for wounded soldiers, was adamant that she was not going to let her injuries stop her from participating in her second Ironman UK challenge on July 22nd. This event and the very idea of Team True Spirit, well, it matters to her a great deal.
Now hold onto that thought.
The Ironman challenge is no walk in the park. The epic triathlon is considered to be one of the most gruelling endurance events in the world: it involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon. In short, it pushes people to the very limits of their capabilities. Show us what you’re made of it asks.
It also has to be completed in less than 17 hours, which might sound like a lot of time, but before you know it, when you hit the wall, even all the time in the world won’t quite seem enough.
Fitness alone isn’t going to get you across the line; there has to be something else, something fundamental, an insatiable drive that compels you to succeed. Some people call that human spirit.
Jennie, needless to say, fits that brief, displaying the kind of amazing temperament that makes Team True Spirit so unique and inspiring. In the run up to the event, training has naturally intensified and invariably, the body ends up taking quite a beating. Knocks and bruises are common, but you have to roll with the punches.
Sometimes though, things fall out of your control and you get hit hard… real hard. Earlier this month, Jennie was involved in a high speed bicycle crash that resulted in her fracturing her jaw in two places, breaking a bone in her ear and dislocating one of her fingers very badly. It goes without saying that it was a serious accident.
Now, while most people would have conceded that this was game over, Jennie, on the other hand, was adamant that she could still compete. It took Mark Airey, the founder of Team True Spirit, to break it to her that she had to give this year’s event a miss.
“I pulled her out because basically it is just not safe,” Mark explains. “Although she was disappointed, she took it well, she sees the bigger picture. It is better to not compete today to try another day. We have organised a couple of races for later in the year which she will be able to take part in.”
Luckily Jennie has her fellow participants to fall back on for support because Team True Spirit is all about a sense of belonging and community. Everyone is in it together.
As such, morale is good, fantastic in fact, even in light of some of the setbacks like the flurry of operations and injuries that have occurred in recent weeks. David Richmond, who was injured in Afghanistan and now works for Help for Heroes, has pulled a calf muscle, as has Zach Wright, digital marketing manager at Cadogan Tate, Official Logistics Partner of Team True Spirit, while Sam Shotton, a physiotherapist at Headley Court, suffered cuts, bruises and abrasions after also crashing her bike. It comes with the territory.
“There are definite nerves kicking in for the guys who have not done one before but a few of the guys did it last year and they know what to expect and I have done five,” says Mark.
“We have made things a lot bigger this year. Last year 17 of us did it and it was very much a case of ‘it will never be the same – you will never beat that first time’ but this year it is going to be bigger and better. The camaraderie is fantastic; it is bigger and definitely better. Never say never to these guys – they never fail to amaze me.”
It’s not hard to see why. As far as motivation goes, Team True Spirit has plenty of it. Rousing the soldiers, their partners – Ironman UK rules require an able-bodied participant to shadow each injured soldier – and the extended team is the belief in the impossible, a desire to raise awareness of the challenges injured servicemen face, and ardent enthusiasm for the work relevant charities do.
This is something Mark realised from the outset. When he first arrived at Headley he was struck by how dramatic an impact an injury has on a soldier. It’s heartbreaking, a true life-changer. He noticed, especially with young servicemen, those at the “top of the game”, that there is a feeling of disquiet. As if they’re conceding defeat.
“The whole idea of it was to tell them ‘you know your life is just going to be different – it is not going to be over’ and so let’s aim for something and let’s set our goals high,” he illuminates.
“There are only less than one per cent of people in the world doing Ironman. It just gave them something to aim for. A lot of the guys have trained for it but can’t take part for one reason or another at which I tell them that if it’s not for this year then it’s for next year. It gives them a purpose.”
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