When Nerys Pearce, a paralysed former Combat Medic, was asked why she would compete in able-bodied swim competitions – she answered by winning.
Nerys is one of Military Charity Blesma, The Limbless Veteran’s most active Members, but that certainly wasn’t always the case. After being paralysed when a car reversed in front of her motorbike in October 2008, the former Combat Paramedic initially found her disability extremely tough to deal with.
After realising that she – “could stay like that for 50 years and do absolutely nothing, or I could look at my old life, which I loved, and get it back”, she threw herself back into sport.
She’s since clocked up a list of athletic achievements to rival anyone: medals in track and field, handcycling, swimming, basketball and weightlifting at the Warrior and Invictus Games; she has represented Wales in Para-Powerlifting at the 2018 Commonwealth Games; joined the Armed Forces Para Snowsports Team; and set both British and World records in indoor rowing. On top of this, she has taken on a massive triple endurance challenge, which has seen her push herself over 100 miles in her wheelchair, take on a 100 mile cycle, and attempt to cross the English Channel.
But Nerys isn’t just satisfied with competing in disability sport. She’s also made a huge impression in events that are open to anyone. “I won a couple of open water races against able-bodied swimmers,” she says. “People would actually ask me why I was entering! – I answered them by winning. I’m still surprised by my results. It’s the love of sport, training hard, and always pushing to be a better version of myself. That’s what’s important, not disability.”
“Competing has been great for me mentally. It has cancelled out lots of the negative mental health issues I had towards my injury and feeling that I was less than my former self. Hopefully, I’ve also countered the labels people put on those with disabilities.”
“I have the power to show people that the seemingly impossible is possible, and that you can make a difference in your own life.”
Such successes have also boosted Nerys’ confidence to arrange events and activities for herself rather than just attending preorganised races. She has swum the lakes in the Lake District and attended swim races in Finland, Sweden and Croatia. This year she attempted to become the first woman paralysed from the chest down to complete a Channel swim. Though she didn’t make it all the way to Calais on medical grounds, she passed the halfway point – an impressive achievement for anyone – and no doubt she won’t give up on her goal that easily!
“Blesma has been vital in giving me more confidence,” she says. “Before I was injured, I was a triathlete and the more sport I’ve done, the more I have realised that endurance sports are my real love. The longer the race, the better I get!”
“I want to be pushed to use my intellect as well as my power, stamina, and endurance. That’s where sport makes me feel fulfilled, like I’m pushing all of myself.
Meanwhile, Nerys has also stretched herself mentally through her involvement in social change project Making Generation R and the Graeae Theatre Company’s production of This Is Not For You. “That was a phenomenal and genuinely lifechanging experience,” she says. “I’ve never been the most confident in a big group of people, or been the arty, theatrical person who stands out and is good with words. I have always been nervous so taking part in that was a crazy journey. I’ve discovered I can interact with people and change the way they think. Making Generation R has shown me that everyone else is just as nervous! I can let people in a bit more, and the confidence has even translated over to my sporting performances. “
Before, I used to think; ‘The worst that can happen is that I come last’. Now, I think; ‘I want to win this!’ ”
Blesma supports its Members for life; working tirelessly to provide practical, emotional and financial support to injured veterans and their families as they rebuild their lives after devastating injury.
Find out more at Blesma.org