Andrew Wolfson
Andrew Wolfson

Pushing the boundaries of what sport can do

British ex-service personnel take part in the Veterans Games in Israel.
British ex-service personnel take part in the Veterans Games in Israel.

Few things are more inspiring in life than to watch someone in private pain visibly change in front of your eyes. To see them smile again, embrace their loved ones and beam with pride. That’s what we’ve seen every day at the inaugural Veterans Games.

The facilities at rehabilitation centre Beit Halochem have been the backdrop to an astonishing four days of personal transformation among British military personnel.

They have endured years of turmoil, feelings of abandonment, and catastrophic injuries that have robbed them of the kind of life we all take for granted. And yet people with debilitating psychological and physical disorders have achieved things they didn’t think were possible.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started planning the event, but I knew that what Israel provides for its military community in terms of rehabilitation is second to none and that British military personnel and their families would undoubtedly benefit if only they could see it up close. Not just by experiencing the facilities but, through competitive sport with Israeli veterans, channelling the positive spirit of empowerment for which the Beit Halochim centres are renowned.

Although I’ve been involved in the charity for a number of years, it was watching the Invictus Games that spurred me into action. Princes William and Harry have been instrumental in making competitive sport for injured personnel a meaningful event for a far wider audience.

Why couldn’t we do something similar?

We wanted to create an event designed to rebuild the fractured bonds within families, so we deliberately planned the week during the school half-term so veterans could bring their wives, husbands, children and parents. To provide a sense of belonging, to show them that something as simple as sporting endeavour can bring back feelings of pride and a sense of achievement that can often be lost after service ends and a life on civvy street begins.

Israel knows this better than anyone. There’s so much here that Britain’s health leaders and decision-makers can learn from, particularly in how post-traumatic stress disorder  and other psychological traumas can be healed through physical therapy. It’s why we brought together some of the world’s leading academics in the fields of medicine and psychology to share research, build relationships and explore new ways of helping people.

In coming weeks, we’ll assess how things have gone, get feedback from the British families as to what they think about Beit Halochim – and indeed Israel. Then we’ll figure out how to make the Veteran Games even more meaningful, transforming even more lives in years to come.


About the Author
Andrew Wolfson, Chair, Beit Halochem UK
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