Invictus Games competitor retains sheaf tossing title at Highland Games
Kilts, cabers and a crate of beers from the future King! A Help for Heroes team of wounded, injured and sick veterans and serving personnel are celebrating after competing at Scotland’s only adaptive Highland Games.
The Mey Games were held in John O’Groats last weekend in front of thousands of spectators; as well as its Chieftain Prince Charles, (or the Duke of Rothesay as he is known over the border).
Last year Prince Charles invited the military charity to enter competitors - the first time that disabled athletes have been included within a traditional Highland Games in Scotland.
This year’s team doubled its ranks with 23 veterans, including Steve Cokayne, originally from Plympton but who now lives in Hinckley in Leicestershire, making the trip to the country’s most northerly tip.
“Joining the military was always something I wanted to do. My dad was a bomb disposal expert in the Navy and my grandad, Isaiah George Trevor Cokayne, was made an MBE by the Foreign Office for his work as a code breaker at Bletchley Park. I am incredibly proud of them both.”
After enlisting at the age of 17, Steve served six years as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery before he was badly injured following a rock-climbing accident while on military exercise. He was abseiling down a cliff when he fell 130ft and following 30 operations over many years Steve had his right leg amputated. He has since gone on to compete at the Invictus Games in Toronto and in the British Powerlifting Championships. He claims that getting an email from Help for Heroes about the Invictus Games was the catalyst for change.
“In the 8 years leading up to my amputation I wasn’t able to be particularly active but I’ve always liked sport. Training in the hope to be selected for Team UK at the Invictus Games gave me back the fight and motivation that I’d lost for so long. Being able to compete in Toronto in 2017 was amazing and something I’ll never forget. I’m hopeful to be selected for the Invictus Games in the Hague next year and recently took part in the Invictus UK Trials in Sheffield. As I tend to focus on strength based training, such as powerlifting, I thought it would be nice to try out something different at the trials. I gave wheelchair rugby a go for the first time and the team ended up with a bronze medal”.
The Mey Games were first held in 1970 to celebrate the 70th birthday of The Queen Mother whilst she was in residence at her beloved Castle of Mey. They include sporting events from tossing the caber and throwing the hammer. Her grandson, Prince Charles, presided over the prestigious final of the tug-of-war which resulted in a hard-fought victory for Help for Heroes, including Steve, against Police Scotland.
“Prince Charles was really friendly. I was one of the three competitors who returned from last year so we spoke about that. He also asked what events I would be taking part in this year and wished me luck”.
Tug-of-war wasn’t Steve’s only success at the Mey Games. He came 2nd in the adaptive weight for height, 2nd in the 4kg shot put, 3rd in the 16lbs weight throw and 5th in the caber toss. He also retained his title from last year as reigning world champion at ‘Sheaf Tossing’.
“I am competing against and beating competitors half my age, so I’m really chuffed with the result. I will continue to do it for as long as I can and would love to go back a third time. The whole event is just brilliant as it’s so family orientated. The weather was also in our favour that day as it was really sunny. Although, some people passed out from the heat”.
As well as rewarding the winning tug-o-war team with local ales, Prince Charles also presented the “Help for Heroes’ Players’ Player award” on Saturday. The sculpture of an adaptive Highland Games athlete with a prosthetic leg was made by Paul Cappleman, a fellow a veteran who has been supported by the charity.
It was given to Kieran Wood, 31, who served with the royal infantry until he suffered an acquired brain injury in a car accident aged 19. He won a Gold in archery at the Invictus Games in London after learning to walk and talk again and took part in throwing the hammer and shot put at the Mey Games.
Mark Airey, Physical Development Coach at Help for Heroes’ Recovery Centre in the North, Phoenix House, said: “We’ve been welcomed here with open arms – they’ve looked after us very well. Sport has played a central part in many of our veterans’ recovery from very serious injuries and in making their transition from military to civilian life”.