Peter caps remarkable comeback with Invictus Games gold medal
Team Kennet’s Peter Saunders is celebrating winning a long jump gold medal at the Invictus Games – less than a decade after suffering a life changing brain injury.
Saunders’ leap of 5.49m was good enough to win him the IJ5 competition at the Games, which are held for wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women – both serving and veterans – and were staged in Dusseldorf.
And the 28-year-old, who first started long jumping while training with Team Kennet aged 10, admitted it was a special feeling to win gold in Germany.
“It was amazing,” he said.
“On more than one occasion, I’ve thought I’d never be able to sprint or jump again, let alone compete, so to win the gold medal is fantastic.”
When he was 21 and representing the army athletics team, Saunders fell from the top of the pole vault and missed the mat as he fell, hitting the floor and suffering a moderate-traumatic brain injury which eventually ended his career in the forces.
Saunders, who now works for the Royal British Legion, did eventually get back into athletics, competing for the first time since his accident when taking part at the Invictus Games.
He said: “I carried on in my career for another four years, I don’t think I wanted to accept the fact that things had changed. Eventually, I was medically discharged.
“Before the brain injury, I was often training twice a day, five times a week.
“After the injury, I was lucky if I could train once or twice a week – not that it stopped me trying.
“I had to manage my time very carefully, so I prioritised working and gave up athletics completely.
“I took up athletics again about a year ago, and even then that’s been a whole other journey.
“I hadn’t been on an athletics track for about five years when I turned up for the first Invictus training camp.
“It turns out it was like riding a bike, and I was straight back into it.”
However, it hasn’t all been smooth cycling for Saunders, who was dealt a huge blow when he ruptured his Achilles in February.
He was advised by doctors that he wouldn’t be able to run – meaning he wouldn’t be able to jump – in time to compete, and so turned his attention to sitting volleyball and archery in a bid to make the Games.
Against all the odds, Saunders was back running again a month before he was due to travel to Germany, allowing him to take on the long jump as well as the sitting volleyball, where he reached the semi-finals.
“The doctors said there was no chance I'd be able to run, which was difficult to accept but I had to adjust," he said.
“It obviously wasn’t ideal preparation. When I was younger, I always went into competitions thinking I could win but, for the first time, I lined up at the Games thinking I had no chance.
“And I was ok with that, because I’ve come to accept it’s not all about winning – although that was a really nice bonus.”
While Saunders isn’t ruling out a return to competing, his experiences in the lead-up to the Games have inspired him to take up coaching at Team Kennet.
He said: “When I decided I was going to do it, I thought it was the last time I’d ever compete. The result has given me a bit more encouragement to carry on, but I won’t be rushed.
“When I was recovering from the brain injury, I was always told to think about the positives.
“After I ruptured my Achilles, I turned to coaching to keep myself involved in the sport. I never would have done that otherwise – and I love it!”