Soldiers battle the odds to compete in Invictus

MYLES HUME
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014
Invictus Jason Sturley
IAIN MCGREGOR / Fairfax NZ
IN TRAINING: Corporal Jason Sturley, 46, is not letting his disability get in the way as he prepares for the inaugural Invictus Games at the Selwyn Aquatic Centre yesterday.
Invictus Games - Dion Taka
IAIN MCGREGOR / Fairfax NZ
SEVERELY WOUNDED: Private Dion Taka, who learned to walk again after being injured in the Battle of Baghak in Afghanistan in 2012.

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Just two years ago Private Dion Taka lay bleeding from his torso on an Afghan battlefield.

The Battle of Baghak on August 4, 2012, claimed the lives of two Kiwi soldiers, and wounded six, of which Taka was the most critical as he lay with his pelvis shattered in 10 pieces and major internal injuries for almost two hours before he was flown out of the area.

He was almost the third fatality that day.

Taka, 40, has  defied the odds since that day by learning to walk again and gaining inclusion in the 12-strong Kiwi team for the inaugural Invictus Games in London in September.

About 400 wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women from 14 countries will descend on the Games, with  Taka and his Kiwi team  preparing at the Selwyn Aquatic Centre, in Rolleston, and the Burnham Army Camp during a week-long camp in Canterbury.

He will compete in events including, 茀wheelchair basketball and rugby, seated volleyball and cycling.

Competing alongside him will be Captain Aaron Soppet, 36, of Halswell, who has poor vision and balance and  vocal cord damage after battling a brain tumour, and Corporal Jason Sturley, 46, of Linton, whose leg was amputated after an injury he sustained in the Solomon Islands.

‘Are the circumstances bigger than me, or am I bigger than my circumstances? I am,’’ Sturley said.

Taka said he and other athletes see the games ‘‘as a stepping stone to getting back to normal’’.

It has been a tumultuous two years for the Burnham soldier, who  has psychological scars from that life-changing day.

‘‘We were the lead vehicle in the patrol ... there was contact with insurgents and I went to help my boss who was wounded and then I was shot,  I was the most serious out of the six of us wounded.’’

Amid the chaos, Taka’s vehicle left without him, but moments later a Kiwi patrol of light armoured vehicles arrived to assist.

An hour and 40 minutes passed until he was flown to a northern Afghanistan hospital, he said.

‘‘What kept me going on the battlefield was the image of my wife and [three] kids, when things got really bad I had the image of them saying ‘don’t leave us’.

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‘‘I was shot in the torso . . . they nearly lost me twice on the operating table.’’

He had a shattered pelvis and major nerve damage. He learned to walk again in three months and has a spinal chord stimulator implant to ease the pain.

‘‘The Invictus Games is a opportunity to now challenge myself and to get out of my comfort zone . . . it’s about making the most of life and never giving up.’’

The games take place from September 10 to 14.


- The Press

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