Invictus and Paralympic dreams for Chorley army veteran who was told he would never walk again after losing legs in Afghanistan
An army veteran who was told he would never walk again after losing both his legs in Afghanistan has set his sights on Invictus Games and Paralympic glory.
Kingsman Anthony Cooper lost his legs in a Taliban roadside bombing in Helmand Province in 2010, leaving him in a coma for five weeks, unable to speak for months, and learning how to talk again.
“Even as a kid I always wanted to serve my country, and after being in the Army Cadets I knew there was only one thing I wanted to do, so at 16 I joined the Army and went straight to Catterick,” said former Parklands High School student Anthony.
“I liked the discipline, the fitness, the camaraderie, the team ethic, everything about it.
“I did a tour of Iraq, which was fairly routine, and then spent four months in Afghanistan, which was the total opposite.
“We were involved in fire fights three times a day, but that’s what I signed up for, I loved it. I was 23 and I was enjoying the intensity.
“Me and the lads spoke about it every night – we were bricking it in reality, but this was what we wanted to do.”
But while on patrol in Afghanistan he stepped on a 45 kilogram improvised explosive device (IED) – an explosive with enough force to blow up a truck.
Anthony, 31, from Euxton, Chorley, explained: “I lost both legs below the knee, I lost two fingers on my left hand, the fingertips on my right hand, the pupil in my right eye blew up and I suffered what the medic described as the worst blast brain injury in 25 years.”
Mum Shelley, a former nurse, gave up her job to care for him – and despite the views of medical staff, she refused to accept the widely-held opinion that Anthony would never sit up, never walk and never be able to speak.
Speaking about the day where she was told of Anthony’s horrific injuries, Shelley said: “I remember the day so clearly.
“I was due to do a tandem sky dive to raise funds for military veterans, when I spotted a guy in a suit outside the window.
“I knew immediately why he was there, he was the guy who had recruited Anthony seven years earlier. It was devastating.”
Anthony spent the next four years in Headley Court Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey – returning to Chorley where he has now defied medics and committed himself to future sporting success.
The former Runshaw College student is aiming for medal glory in wheelchair racing and archery at the Invictus Games 2020 at The Hague in the Netherlands – as well as future Paralympics glory, with a dream to emulate six-time Paralympian gold medal winner David Weir CBE.
“It’s been sheer hard work to get to this stage, but I always wanted to get back to a level of fitness and competition,” said Anthony.
“That competitive streak came from the Army, of course. But because of my eye injuries, I’ve had to learn to use my left side for archery, even though I’m right-handed, but I was determined to get there.”
For the last two years Anthony has been a member of the Pendle and Samlesbury Archery Club, despite being registered blind. And last year he finished in the top four at the Warrior Games.
Alongside archery, he has rediscovered the speed of his younger days and returned to the track as a 100m wheelchair racer.
Thanks to a donation from fellow cyclists in the Royal British Legion, he’s been able to buy a modified specialist racing bike to use in this week’s trials in Sheffield.
Anthony said: “Training has been a massive part of my recovery, if I didn’t train I wouldn’t have the mind-set I have now, I want to be a fully-fledged athlete and this is my opportunity.
“A sponsor would help, someone who understands the goal, but I’m determined to get there regardless. I want to do the Nationals, the Worlds and hopefully the Paralympics.”
This week Anthony is attending the first ever Team UK Invictus Games Trials, a qualifying event for selection for the 2020 games.
Sheffield is hosting the event until Friday, where more than 470 competitors will take part in up to nine sports.
A spokesman from the Royal British Legion said: “The Legion is proud to support the families, friends and carers of the Invictus Games competitors in Sheffield, from co-ordinating travel and accommodation to providing welfare support.”
• Anyone wishing to sponsor Anthony on his Invictus journey can email [email protected]
Coping with PTSD
Nine years after the bomb, Anthony still struggles with his mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But with the help of the Royal British Legion, his home has been adapted to suit his needs through the Legion’s Handy Vans service working in conjunction with Chorley Council which carries out the majority of the works.
He said: “The house is brilliant now, I can’t thank everyone enough, I’ve built up a good relationship with Karen from the Royal British Legion, and it all came from there.
“I’ve got room to store my racing chair and I’ve got a safe space to exercise.
“It’s relieved a lot of stress, my PTSD can be triggered by the slightest thing, but I feel a lot happier now.
“I’m much more positive and I can actually see a career ahead of me, my coach believes I could emulate David Weir.”