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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Iraq veteran's Beijing dream

By Matthew Pinsent
BBC Sport reporter and four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist

Mick Brennan
Brennan had a Paralympic rowing trial last week

Sergeant Mick Brennan lost his legs in a Baghdad suicide bombing in 2004 while on active service in Iraq.

The 27-year-old, who was attached to the Royal Signal Bomb Squad, spent 15 days in a coma after the attack.

He awoke in a hospital bed in Germany with his wife at his bedside.

"I spent half an hour or so feeling 'Why me?' And then you just get on with it," he recalled.

Brennan has spent three years at Headley Court rehabilitation centre gradually building up his abilities and dealing with the setbacks that would have broken many men.

Now, for almost the first time since being a front-line soldier, he can set himself goals that don't revolve around his rehab centre.

Matthew Pinsent (r) steadies Mick Brennan's boat
Pinsent (r) steadies Brennan's boat as he sets off for a training row
But even for a man well used to surprising people with his progress, he has set a target that has astonished everyone.

"I want to be the first Army soldier to get to the Olympics," he declared.

"Imagine coming back to Headley Court and handing out tickets so that you could have a load of soldiers cheering you on. And hopefully people would get inspired and do just as well as me, if not better."

While up to 10% of the American Paralympic team in Beijing 2008 will be armed forces personnel (many of whom were injured during service in Afghanistan or Iraq), few British Paralympians have a military background.

However, a relationship between the British Paralympic Association and the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court in Surrey has gradually emerged.

Beijing's a year away and I've got the motivation to do it
Mick Brennan

The DMRC deals with all injured forces personnel who need long-term care, whether they were front-line soldiers or road traffic accident victims.

They have facilities ranging from hydrotherapy pools to medical wards and gyms, and a 200-strong staff from physical training instructors to psychologists.

There's even a prosthetic workshop where new limbs can be manufactured, adjusted and improved at a fraction of the time that the National Health Service would take.

Patients can live on site in the immediate aftermath of their trauma and hundreds more can attend as outpatients.

Brennan's choice of sport is rowing, which is new to the programme for Beijing in 2008.

But British Rowing already run a well-developed programme of squad training and selection which has led to medals at the World Championships.

A WINNING ATTITUDE

So Brennan will have his work cut out if he is to break into the squad and fulfil his dream of wearing the Olympic rings on his shirt next year.

"I've got no pressure on me at the moment," he said. "All the others are going to be looking over their shoulders at me and that's an advantage for me.

"Beijing's a year away and I've got the motivation to do it."

Forces people are used to setting themselves targets and striving to achieve them despite all sorts of hurdles and hardships.

Mick took to rowing like a duck to water
GB Paralympic rowing chief coach Chad King

Brennan is no exception and when he was trialled last week by the Paralympic rowing coaches, the hours of rehabilitation on his upper body at Headley Court really paid off.

He pulled a good score on the rowing machine in the gym before defying expectation and surprising many observers with his swift progress on the water, revealing a level of skill on his first windy outing that others would take weeks to master.

But it was his attitude that most impressed Chad King, chief coach for Great Britain's Paralympic rowing team.

"He took to it like a duck to water," King said. "What really impressed me is his hunger, his ambition and his ability to listen.

"There are going to be a few of the guys who are going to be worried about him now."

The irony is that without the personal disaster that befell him on the roadside in Iraq, Brennan would still be putting all his energies into being a soldier.

Only when he joins the squad in the autumn will he really be able to tell whether he can defy the odds - yet again - and become a Paralympian in a year.

Watch Matthew Pinsent's report on Inside Sport, Sunday 13 May, 1130 BST.

INSIDE SPORT ON THE BBC

MONDAY 12 MAY
2330 BST, BBC ONE

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