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War heroes on track for 2012 Paralympics

Jon-Allan Butterworth speak to Channel 4 at the National Cycling Centre (pic: British Cycling)

Two British war heroes are on course to battle for gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.  

Jon-Allan Butterworth and Terry Byrne were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively but both already have world records to their name as track cyclists.

Butterworth, a weapons technician, joined the RAF in 2002 before serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he lost his left arm in August 2007.

“We came under fire from a rocket attack on Basra Air Station. It was seven o’clock in the morning. I was on my way to work. The alarm sounded and I got down on the ground, but my left arm was hit by metal from the explosion,” Butterworth, whose arm was amputated below the elbow at the battlefield hospital, told the Daily Telegraph.

“I went through rehab. I spent a year eating pies and then I really had to get fit and learn to ride properly. I was always intense, motivated by my job. But I left the RAF in 2009 because I was not able to go back to my old job.

“I missed the excitement but I now have the same commitment to para-cycling.”

Butterworth’s path to the boards came courtesy of a Paralympics GB talent ID day in Loughborough in 2007.

Byrne took up the sport through the Battle Back programme, a joint initiative between Paralympics GB and the Ministry of Defence.

He remains a corporal in the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment and joined the Army in 2003 before setting off an improvised explosive device while leading a night patrol in August 2008.

“It was pitch black, there were around 85 of us on the patrol,” he said. “I was wearing night vision goggles when I trod on a pressure pad of an IED with my right boot.

“I must have stepped just outside the footprint of the man in front of me, as he had been in and out of the ditch.

“I tried to stand up but my right leg had been badly damaged. I collapsed and when I reached for my medical bandages with my right hand I realised my little finger was just sticking out and my hand was severely damaged.”

Byrne’s right leg was amputated below the knee, while metal pins were placed in his wrist. It was while recovering at Birmingham’s Selly Oak hospital that he decided to take up cycling having watched the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

The pair are now on track to be among Great Britain’s stars in London, with Byrne setting a world record in the team sprint with Jody Cundy and Rik Waddon earlier this year while Butterworth made the 200m flying sprint record his own last month.

“I have a great respect for the athletes,” said Byrne. “We worked physically hard in the army and we are known as being fit in the Paras, but these guys are on another level.

“My family were upset with what happened to me, but I served my country once and I want to serve the country again and to make my parents and family proud.”

He added: “People may not realise this, but serving in Afghanistan could be a stress-free existence.

“We’d go out on operations and have a firefight every day, come back, shower, eat, play volleyball or football, and then watch Extras on a DVD.

“That was life day after day. Life at home is much more complex. I have my racing times to worry about, I have a baby on the way. There are different stresses.”

Today Byrne’s mind will be focussed wholly on the hob in hand, with the pair competing in Great Britain colours for the first time at the Para-Cycling Europa Cup in Germany as they continue their quest for Paralympic glory in less than two years time.

The British Paralympic Association has held FastTrack Talent ID days since 2007 to identify the best athletes for 2012 and beyond. The next Talent ID day will be at Pond’s Forge, Sheffield, on Nov 10. Sign up at www.paralympics.org.uk

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