Ken Hargreaves’ history with archery starts with a country fair have-a-go game and an archery set he bought as a present for his wife, Jennifer, and niece, Alison. Fast forward a year and Ken represented the United Kingdom in men’s archery novice recurve at the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.
“The competition was strong from the other countries, and everyone stepped to the mat and did their best. I was fortunate to finish forth, which for me is a good place to finish,” said Ken. “And there was plenty of banter on the line.”
Ken was serving as an army nurse on the front lines in Iraq when he was wounded. Medical issues, including spinal injury and organ damage, forced him to medically retire. He now uses a wheelchair and receives help from his guide dog, Frederick, who Ken describes as his “life and soul.”
Since taking up archery and receiving support from the UK’s Help for Heroes, Ken felt himself welcomed “back into the military fold.” The Invictus Games took that feeling one step further, and he’s already looking forward to future training.
“I met more soldiers, more squaddies, more competitors, and I thought, maybe I can do this. Each time I went to the trials, I got more and more empowered,” explained the 56-year-old from Northumberland. “What I will be doing when I get home to ‘Blighty’ is putting the novice bow to bed, taking out an Olympic recurve and practising, increasing my skills, to come back [to the Invictus Games]. Ultimately, my goal, if I could acquire the appropriate skills, will be to look at the 2020 Paralympics.”
While here in Toronto, Ken, Jennifer and Alison have been enjoying their experience. “It’s been absolutely magnificent. From the catering staff, to cleaners on the street, to just normal Torontonians who move a chair when you enter a local café so you can wheel up — they have gone the extra mile. They’ve been very generous, not just in what they’ve given, but in their kind hearts.”
Upon arriving in Toronto, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 388 helped him hire an electric wheelchair. “They kindly sponsored it as well, which is an extremely generous thing for them to do. And that allowed me to go out shopping with Jen around a big city. That is the first time we’ve been able to do that since before I was injured. That is something worth more than just money,” he said.
Having a sense that these types of experiences might be in store when he came to Toronto, Ken came prepared with cards he designed specially to thank people during the Invictus Games. The cards include a rearrangement of Henley’s poem Invictus, which Ken wrote from his heart as a solider for soldiers.
“When I came here I knew there were a lot of helpers who would do things out of the goodness of their heart, and I wanted to be able to turn and say to them ‘thank you’ and for them to be able to understand that’s exactly what I meant. To the competitors as well.” said Ken. “When I watched them open the card and read it, from the expression on their face, you could see that it gave them a warm feeling as much as it gave me a warm feeling. It was important, for both of us. It was a moment that’s able to be shared.”
Out of the night’s sweat that covers my soul,
Black as the Pit from the darkened hole,
I thank God for my unconquerable soul.
In the felled clutch of circumstance
I have winced & cried inside my head.
Under the bludgeoning of fate that befell one’s sole.
My head has been blooded,
But never bowed.
Beyond this place where wrath and tears looms in the doom.
The horror of the shade and dark that can menace the years.
It shall find me, stridently unbowed.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the days ahead,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I shall hold my head up with the dignity of my soul.