Ex-RAF man eyes Paralympic cycling glory at London 2012

25th November 2010
by BBC Newsbeat
The listing was posted by Disability Sport Events

Advances in the treatment of soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan mean they could be the ones leading the UK's challenge for medals at the London Paralympics Games in 2012.

Scientists say developments in prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation have helped develop a group of elite athletes.

Other people who have suffered severe injuries are also likely to benefit from the advances.

Jon-Allan Butterworth, 24, joined the RAF in 2002 as a SAC(T) weapons technician and served in Afghanistan in 2005 and Iraq in 2007. 

Jon-Allan lost his left arm in Iraq on 4 August 2007 when he was hit in a rocket attack on Basra air station.

He tells the story of how the attack happened.

"Just after breakfast I was driving along one of the main roads nicknamed rocket alley and the early warning siren went off, which usually gives you a few seconds warning before rockets come.

"I jumped out of my vehicle to get on the ground and got as low as I could.

"Four rockets came in and the last one came pretty close to me. Shrapnel lacerated my left arm.

"I knelt up from lying down to dust myself down and then realised it was a major arterial bleed and my arm was hanging off."

Jon-Allan, who's originally from Birmingham, hoped doctors would be able to save his arm but says once in hospital he soon had to come to terms with losing it.

He had a prosthetic limb fitted, which he says is pretty good for basic tasks but also takes time to get used to.

"At first it's uncomfortable," admits Jon-Allan. "It's hot and sweaty, you get sweat rash and it feels like a dead weight."

Within three months of his injury, he was already looking at how he could get involved in sport.

He met coaches at a Paralympics talent day in October 2007, which laid the foundation for his move into cycling.

Jon-Allan eventually joined the British Para-Cycling Talent Programme 18 months later.

He was helped by Battle Back, a scheme between Paralympics GB and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which encourages wounded service personnel to return to an active life through sport.

The 24-year-old recently set a new world record at the 2010 National Track Championships in Manchester and hopes to compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

"Before I lost my arm I never thought I'd get to the stage where I'd represent my country in the Olympics," says Jon-Allan.

"I was always sporty; Thai boxing, martial arts, gym, football. I was about average on everything but never a master of one thing.

"Now since losing my arm I've had to focus on one sport and one activity and I'm coming up to elite level.

Jon-Allan describes losing his arm as "like a dark cloud with a silver lining" and is now focused on his Paralympic dream.

"It's really exciting and building to 2012, it's going to be immense," he says.