INSPIRATIONAL heroes who have fought back from life-changing injuries saddled up and took to the fields at Tidworth Polo Club at the weekend in the world’s first para-polo match.
The match, held on Sunday as part of the Best of British Polo event in aid of Help for Heroes, was organised by David Cowley in thanks for the assistance and support Help for Heroes provided his son Nick and his family when Nick was injured.
As part of its Sports Recovery Programme, Help for Heroes has been working with Cool Hooves Polo Club to teach wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans how to play polo for the last 12 months, for free.
One of the players was veteran Andrew Jelinek, who sustained a serious spinal injury in a crash while pursuing a suspected insurgent vehicle in Afghanistan.
The accident resulted in significant loss of motor control and muscle strength in his lower body.
He said: “Polo is immensely exciting and it is a great honour to play in the first para-polo match.
“When you get injured you completely lose your confidence, you think your active life and sport is something you can’t do, something you’ve lost – but on a horse you don’t feel limited in any way – it’s amazing – it’s hard to describe what recapturing the speed and aggression of sport has given me.
“There’s no sense of restriction when you’re thundering down a field on a polo pony.”
This year, the Best of British Polo Day supported Help for Heroes. Tidworth Polo Club’s Duke of York Cup between the Royal Navy and the RAF kicked the day off followed by the inaugural para-polo match, the Heroes’ Cup.
Then the Best of British Polo match saw eight of the top names in British Polo today battling it out for the Hattingley Valley Trophy, which provided an outstanding and exciting finale to the day.
Louise Watson, Help for Heroes sports recovery manager, said: “The freedom and exhilaration the Help for Heroes para-polo players have gained from playing polo is fantastic to see.
“The influence the sport has on the mental and physical health of someone who has suffered life-changing injury or illness makes this – and all adaptive sport – incredibly valuable.”