Invictus Games Sydney 2018: Blackpool's Debbie O'Connoll bounces back from horrific injury to win two Gold and two Silver medals
A Blackpool-born woman has today told how she bounced back from an horrific injury to win two Gold and two Silver medals at the Invictus Games.
Debbie O’Connoll, 31, a former member of the Kings troupe royal horse artillery, was thrown from her horse in 2015, breaking her collar bone and suffering paralysis of her left arm.
Despite being sent on rehabilitation courses by the army in order to aid her recovery, the former Collegiate High School pupil was discharged in 2017 and her military career was over.
Debbie, who had been in the reservists from 2010 to 2014, when she then joined the Army full time, said: “It was a massive blow.
“I had a life plan and I thought I knew what direction I was going in, and then all of a sudden I was at a standstill with no direction.
“My physical health had changed and I had to learn how to cook, eat, get dressed, brush my hair, and shower, all over again.
“I was in intense pain and wondered how it would leave me for the rest of my life.
“It changed my whole life and I did not cope very well.
“It was just really devastating.”
Debbie says despite being aware of the Invictus Games, which is held in Sydney, Australia, she was not mentally prepared to take part as she struggled to adjust to what had happened.
She says: “I was aware of the Invictus Games when I was still serving, but was not mentally in the right place to apply until last year.
“It means I have one foot in the military and one foot in civilian life and it bridges that gap.
“I realised I didn’t need to sit feeling sorry for myself.
“I did not have to give up my whole life ambitions and aims.”
Debbie said she was shown how to adapt to sports with her injury and was able to perform track running with a specially designed brace and cycle on a recumbent three wheel trike.
She took two Gold medals for cycling on her first day of competing, in both the race time trial, a 2.5 km race where the fastest person wins and the criterium, a 30 minute cycle followed by a lap race.
She followed that up with winning Silver in the 1500m running race, and women’s 100 relay with Naomi Adie, Kelly Ganfield, and Alexandra McClellan.
Speaking from Australia, Debbie told The Gazette: “I am absolutely ecstatic.
“This is not something I planned or I thought would happen but it is such an achievement.
“Everyone is so supportive and it is not all about the medals or personal bests.
“We are all one big family.”
Debbie, who now lives in Lincoln, said her own family back home in Blackpool – sisters Alicia Clark, 19, and Jade Clark, 28, brother Nile Clark, 25, mum Janine Clark, 50, and grandma Maureen O’Connell, 72 – have been staying up late to watch the races in real time.
She added: “They have been so supportive.
“They have set up a messenger group and we have all been in touch.
“I will have been here 17 days by the time I go home and I am looking forward to seeing them and sharing my experiences.”
Her grandma Maureen, who lives in South Shore, said: “We are over the moon with what she has achieved.
“Debbie broke her collar bone and had to wait for a specialist to put it back together.
“She severed all the nerves in her arm and now she is in 24/7 pain.
“She has done so much and has come from dark places.
“Hopefully with her medals she can get some joy and move ahead.
“She has worked so hard to achieve them.
“Debbie is not ostentatious, she is a quiet girl, but she has to give everything her 100 per cent.
“She has to strive for the best. We are all so very proud of her.”
Ex- England football captain David Beckham made a surprise visit to the UK Games team with his sons Romeo and Cruz, in Sydney on Friday.