British Army Hero's journey from Afghanistan to Rio 2016
1 Aug 2013, 4:04 p.m.
Steve Arnold caught the cycling bug two years ago. A Staff Sergeant in the Army, Arnold was at the rehabilitation unit at Headley Court in Surrey, recovering from losing both legs above the knee when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan.
Someone suggested he try handcycling and he jumped at the chance.
“I just wanted to get my fitness back up,” says Arnold, who’s now based at his regiment HQ in East Anglia. “My first ride was around Box Hill, so that either makes you or breaks you. From then on I was hooked.”
Arnold got support from the Help for Heroes charity and the Operation Battle Back scheme that aids injured service personnel to take up Paralympic sports.
Now he races in handcycling events around the country, including the recent national championships where he was fourth. On Saturday 3 August he will race against some of the top handcyclists in the world in the Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix, a series of criterium races around St James’s Park in central London.
“There’s going to be a lot of world champions and Olympic gold medalists in there, so for me this is just about getting experience in a big race,” says Arnold, who is already in the Great Britain development squad and hopes to win selection for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games team.
“It is my first international race, so it will be good to see how much further I’ve got to push myself to get up with these guys,” he says. “It was unbelievable to watch the handcycling events at the Paralympics last summer, it was amazing to see the speeds they achieved.
“Two years ago, when I was in rehab, I never thought I would be in this position – Paralympians were the elite.”
Arnold insists he would have taken up handcycling even if he hadn’t discovered a talent for racing, and believes this weekend’s Prudential RideLondon events will play a “massive” part in encouraging others to get into the sport.
“It’s a massive event this weekend, a chance for thousands of people to see us, and if that gets people out cycling then it’s great,” he says.
“It doesn’t have to be competitive. I got into it partly because I can go out with my mates after work and at weekends. And if people want to get competitive as well, that’s even better.”
The Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix handcycle race starts on The Mall at 17:00 on Saturday 3 August.