Family & Friends. They are the closest thing to the Invictus Games competitors. Saw them at their worst moments, gave the push when it was needed, and listened or stimulated. Just what was needed. When the Invictus Games are held in The Hague in April, they will also be there to support their loved ones. We made a series with Invictus Games competitors and one or more of their Family & Friends. In this episode: Jules Allen (51) from the United Kingdom and his sister Marysia.
By Edward Swier
There were times when Marysia Jones was scared she would receive ‘that one phone call’ about her brother, Jules (Julian) Allen. But that danger has now passed. Jules feels a lot better about himself. He talks a lot about the future and is looking forward to participating in the Invictus Games. His sister Marysia, and his sons Archie and Alfie, come with him to The Hague.
Jules was only 17 when he damaged his back in Germany, serving in the infantry. ,,At that day in 1988 I didn’t know how serious it was. I carried on, also during the conflict in Northern Ireland.’’ That wasn’t an easy job. He was effected mentally. And his back still was a big issue. ,,I left the military in 1993. Obviously the transition was very difficult, because I went in at only 16. The transition from military service to civilian life, is a problem for a lot of us. It’s very hard. Also my back hurt, again, and I needed surgery at a very young age. I went from being a combat soldier to being disabled. That was a big blow, my mental health was bad. I tried to take my life in 1994. Lucky enough, I was saved by the local hospital.’’
After that, it was a long, long road, as he describes it. ,,Obviously, I knew something was wrong with me. You know, not just physically, but mentally. I ‘selfmedicated’, as a lot of veterans do when they are coping with pain.’’
A series of new surgeries on his back, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, brought a sudden change. ,,Help for Heroes grabbed hold of me and looked after me when I was in a very bad place, physically and mentally. I spoke to a few competitors from previous Invictus Games when I was at the recovery center. And saw, when I was laying in the hospital after my third major back surgery, the Invictus Games on TV. Then something just sparked in my mind. If they can do that, I also could. So I set myself goals while I was in bed.”
His first goal was to attend the UK-trials in Bath, for the Invictus Games in Australia (2018). ,,I just wanted to get the T-shirt. That was the goal. I just wanted to get my physical and mental health to a point where I could try something. The recovery staff of Help for Heroes gave me the belief and the confidence that I could do things where I didn’t think of before. And so I actually competed on the trials in powerlifting. It blew my mind. I hardly could move my legs before and now I was lifting weights.’’
That was also the moment Jules felt the strength of recovery through sports. He immediately felt the need to inspire others. ,,I also wanted to show my family see me change on this journey.’’ And that’s basically what happened. His sister suddenly didn’t fear the phonecalls anymore. He was there again for his kids Archie and Alfie.
At the UK-trials in Sheffield he tried to become a member of the team for the Invictus Games of 2020, in wheelchair rugby, wheelchair racing and powerlifting. And he succeeded. ,,I think the hardest part was writing a 250 words statement, because my PTSD effects my handwriting and my spelling. When I got the email that I got selected to represent my country again, it was a massive, massive boost.’’
Of course the Invictus Games of 2020 were postponed, first to 2021 and later to 2022. ,,But I didn’t stop training. I managed to get hold of an paralympic bench, and – thanks to charity – also got my
rugby chair. When I trained with the wheelchair rugby for the first time and they said the magic words ‘you’ve got potential’, I was so happy. No one ever said that to me before.” Of course the pandemic effected his mood, like anybody’s. ,,But instead of grabbing the medication, I would get onto the bar. And lift some weight. Even if I sometimes get a flashback at night, I’ll lift some weights and then go back to bed.’’
He surprised his sister several times. ,,He is always training, and so dedicated.’’ And even is acting as an motivational speaker. ,,I had problems with saying more than two sentences, and now I stand in front of a group.’’ He talks with other veterans, has resumed friendships from thirty years ago. And tries to give wheelchair rugby in Somerset a boost. Jules was also invited to speak about the importance of sports recovery, in England and even Gibraltar. ,,I’ve listened to what’s being said by Prince Harry, and the Invictus UK-team, to spread the awareness of your journey to others.’’
Closer to home, he even got his disabled neighbor into sports. ,,She now participates in online competitions.” Above all, he invested a lot of time in the relationship with his family. ,,This journey has really had a huge positive effect. I’m a single parent and one of my children, Archie, is mentally disabled. I also set goals for him, with him. I want to show my son, that you can achieve your goals no matter what. My young man was in a special needs school in 2018, but we achieved to get him into a mainstream college in September.’’
His sister shakes her head, clearly proud. ,,Jules has become such a different person now. Wonderful. He is very passionate about the amazing journey he has made in recent years, sometimes even talks a bit too much now’’, she laughs. ,,He helps others and himself. I’ve seen him at his lowest point, and he’s really back on top of the mountain now. The physical workouts have done him so well, it’s amazing to watch. And very nice of course. For me, the rest of the family, but also for friends and neighbors. It has been extremely difficult, almost impossible, for years to help him. But now he can do it all on his own. He really is a different person, so focused, so active.”
Marysia went to the trials in Bath. ,,I was able to see what sport means for all those soldiers and veterans. It’s really inspiring to watch them cope with all their physical and mental limitations.’’
Jules is happy that ,,they don’t have to worry so much about me anymore.’’ Father, mother, other relatives; they are all looking forward to Jules’ participation in The Hague. ,,My sister will come with me, she will also help me with the care of Archie and his younger brother Alfie. It will be a unique experience, for me, but also for my loved ones. They’ve all seen me in a very dark place, they’ve seen me go through surgery after surgery. They saw me in bed and in the wheelchair. And they see me now. And realize that, in every situation, there is light at the end of the tunnel.’’
Team UK for the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 is delivered by Invictus UK; a partnership comprising Help for Heroes, the Ministry of Defence, and the Royal British Legion.