A VETERAN who uses cycling to help overcome mental and physical health challenges is urging others to join her in the saddle and raise funds for wounded veterans.

Clare Gibson, 46 from Didcot, is a former Combat Medical Technician in the Royal Army Medical Corps and she is one of a team of six wounded veterans who are taking part in Help for Heroes’ new cycling fundraiser.

Fundraiser ‘Heroes Ride 200’ asks participants to ride 200 miles, individually or as a team, anywhere, and on any bike.

In 1999, Ms Gibson was deployed to Kosovo. Alongside working in the field hospital, she was part of a team tasked to exhume shallow mass graves and prepare the bodies to be re-interred.

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Three years later, after leaving the Army and having her baby daughter, she started to have nightmares and flashbacks. Only years later did she realise that this harrowing experience had left her with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Adding to this in 2012, she was diagnosed with Behçet’s Disease, a rare condition which causes blood vessel inflammation throughout the body.

The disease can cause an array of symptoms such as mouth ulcers, joint pain, bowel problems, nerve damage, migraines, nausea and chronic fatigue.

It has had a huge impact on her life, severely affecting her mobility and making her rely on crutches and a wheelchair to maintain her independence.

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The Didcot veteran has received support from the charity’s Hidden Wounds and Sports Recovery teams. The charity helped her confront PTSD and encourage her to regenerate her passion for sport.

She loves handcycling and finds it helps her with both her physical and mental health. During lockdown last year, as well as using Help for Heroes virtual cycling classes, she set up her handcycle in the back garden and challenged herself to cycle 226 miles over 13 weeks to raise money for Behçet’s UK. 14 weeks later she had reached 1,000 miles.

Ms Gibson said: “Cycling has become a medicine for both my PTSD and Behçet’s symptoms. I genuinely can’t stress enough how powerful it’s been in my recovery.

“Eight years ago, just getting on my bike would have been a challenge, but now I am genuinely excited to be part of the Heroes Team and see if we can smash our target in June.

“We hope that by showing people that a group of veterans with different injuries and illnesses can take on this challenge, we will inspire others to sign up to Heroes Ride 200 and see how great getting out on a bike makes them feel.”

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Between now and the end of June, Ms Gibson and her fellow Heroes Team members will be telling their stories, sharing training tips and progress on social media which will be shared on Help for Heroes’ own social media channels.

Hannah Lawton, sports recovery manager at Help for Heroes, said: “Cycling is a great sport for anyone. The Heroes Team embody the amazing spirit of our cycling veterans and, as their assortment of hand bikes, recumbent trikes and upright bikes show, there is a bike to suit pretty much any impairment, making cycling one of the most adaptive sports there is. This is what has made cycling a core activity in the recovery of many of our veterans.

“With Heroes Ride 200 we hope to encourage many others to join us, whatever their skill or fitness level, and experience all the mental and physical health benefits of being on two wheels. All whilst raising vital funds for wounded and sick veterans.”

To sign up to Heroes Ride 200 visit heroesride.helpforheroes.org.uk/.

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