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Battling their way back

WORLD TRACK PARA-CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Venue: Montichiari, Italy Date: 11-13 March Coverage: Daily text and video reports on the BBC Sport website

Paralympic hopefuls Tel Byrne and Jon-Allen Butterworth
Byrne and Butterworth are hoping to reach the 2012 Paralympics

By Elizabeth Hudson

Army corporal Tel Byrne and former RAF weapons technician Jon-Allen Butterworth have both suffered the life-changing trauma of losing limbs in the line of duty.

But the inspirational servicemen have found a new passion in cycling and take part in this week's World Track Para-Cycling Championships in Italy, hoping that it will lead them to success at the London 2012 Paralympics.

Butterworth 25, lost his left arm in a rocket attack on Basra Air Station in Iraq in August 2007.

In August 2008, Byrne, 26, was on night patrol with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan when he trod on an improvised explosive device that damaged his right leg and arm and resulted in a below-the-knee amputation.

Both men, who didn't know each other previously, were encouraged to attend ParalympicsGB talent days as part of their rehabilitation.

I don't see us as pioneers or as inspiration - I got blown up, I got on a bike and I got fit

Jon-Allen Butterworth

They then joined the Para-Cycling development programme in April 2009 via the Battle Back initiative - a joint scheme between ParalympicsGB and the Ministry of Defence that plays a key role in helping wounded service personnel return to an active life with the help of adventure training and sport.

"When I started off, I didn't know much about velodrome cycling, let alone the Paralympics," Butterworth told BBC Sport.

"Getting involved in cycling has helped me physically as I was getting fat and it helped me lose weight.

"Mentally, it helped me focus on something else. I left the forces last year so it has given me something to channel my energy into.

"If I wasn't doing this I would probably be sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle on television, doing nothing and dossing about with no direction."

It has been a similar learning experience for Byrne who watched coverage of the Beijing Paralympics while he was recovering from his injuries at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

Iraq veteran Jon-Allen Butterworth targets Paralympic glory

"Being in the Paras meant I was pretty fit anyway and mentally strong but being athletically fit is completely different and it takes so much dedication to go that little bit faster," he went on.

"There is a big pool of injured lads out there and quite a few of us can do sport and Battle Back have helped a lot in getting so many of us into sport.

"At the end of the day, 2012 is a dream. I don't want to get carried away but these World Championships are a big stepping stone for both of us."

Already the Battle Back programme has seen skiers Mick Brennan, Pete Dunning and Martin Hewitt represent GB earlier this year at the IPC World Championship in Sestriere, Italy.

Butterworth and Byrne are now set to become the first Battle Back athletes to compete in a World Championships for a summer Paralympic sport.

The event in Italy is one of only two opportunities for track riders to earn qualification points to get places for their nations at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Paralympic hopefuls Jon-Allen Butterworth and Tel Byrne
Over the last 18 months they have moved on rapidly and we have been very impressed with what they have done

Paralympic cycling head coach Chris Furber

Butterworth and Byrne are part of a 16-strong GB team that features a host of Paralympic and world champions knowing that success in Italy could take them one step nearer a Paralympic debut in the London Velodrome.

The progress of Butterworth and Byrne has been a revelation to Paralympic head coach Chris Furber who has overseen a hugely successful period for the squad, including topping the cycling medal table in Beijing.

"When we got them on board the programme, we thought there was a long way for them to go," admitted Furber.

"We knew they had the type of attributes that we were looking for but were miles away from actually challenging for medals.

"But over the last 18 months they have moved on rapidly and we have been very impressed with what they have done and they are now on the verge of their first World Championships.

"Tel just gets on with it and does the job. Jon is a thinker and has great attention to detail and all of those qualities are good attributes for would-be Paralympic champions.

"Their military backgrounds mean they are very disciplined but they are also great in a team environment. Although cycling is an individual sport, there are team elements like at training camps and they do that really well."

Joining the successful squad who won 12 golds on the track in Beijing in 2008 and continued that success at the 2009 World Track Championships in Manchester might have been a daunting experience.

But rather than being outshone by their more illustrious teammates, the pair have impressed on the Manchester Velodrome track where they train alongside the likes of Olympic heroes Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton and Paralympians Sarah Storey and Jody Cundy.

Butterworth has already set a world record in the flying 200m time trial, going around the Velodrome circuit in 11.104 seconds, and will compete in the kilo and the pursuit in Italy.

Byrne set a new world team sprint best along with Cundy and Rik Waddon at last year's Disability Cycling Grand Prix of Wales in Newport and is set to compete in that event and the kilo at the worlds.

But Byrne and Butterworth modestly play down their achievements.

"I was a 22-year-old in the army and I loved it and it was all I could see myself doing," said Byrne. "Suddenly I had been injured but it didn't matter about that, I had a chance to do something different with cycling so I got straight into it.

"Cycling is everything - I love it and if I wasn't doing it, I wouldn't be doing the job I enjoy."

"I don't see us as pioneers or as inspiration - I got blown up, I got on a bike and I got fit," added Butterworth. "I'm doing it for myself and my family. It's great if people see me as an inspiration but I personally don't."



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see also
Storey hopes for happy ending
09 Mar 11 |  Disability Sport
Ex-RAF man eyes Paralympic glory
25 Nov 10 |  Health
A-Z of Paralympic classification
28 Aug 08 |  Disability Sport
Disability Sport on the BBC
02 Nov 09 |  Disability Sport


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