When our heroes fall, who and what picks them up?
Army veteran Chris Paterson testifies to the power of sport in giving his life a new direction.
The 44-year-old from Tillicoultry served in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. After being medically discharged due to an injury and rejoining civilian society, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - and golf has been his saviour.
Chris says: “Golf has helped me immensely in trying to overcome my PTSD. I have suffered a lot with isolation and anxiety over the last four years and having golf allows me to get out and focus on something I really enjoy.”
A career cut short
Chris joined the Army aged 16 and served as an infantry soldier and lance corporal for almost seven years. His career was sadly cut short when he was discharged after an unsuccessful ankle ligament operation.
He went on to become a scaffolder, but in 2015 he suffered from a serious fall which triggered his PTSD among other injuries.
“I started scaffolding after I was medical discharged from the army. I was later diagnosed with PTSD after a scaffolding incident triggered my PTSD, which brought back certain incidents from my time in the Army, and I have been receiving treatment ever since.”
Time to tee off
Working closely with Combat Stress, a charity which provides support programmes and treatment for ex-service personnel suffering from mental ill health, Chris was referred to participate in Active Stirling’s new outreach programme, Tee Times for Troops.
Tee Times for Troops is designed to assist veterans who suffer from conditions such as PTSD, or who live in isolation. It encourages them to get out and on to the golf course for free to enjoy the social and physical benefits it brings, integrating them back into everyday life in their community.
The initiative has been rolled out across eight golf clubs within the Stirling and Clackmannanshire area, providing a platform for veterans to get back to more active lifestyles.
Chris says: “I have played golf on and off since I was 12 years old. Being referred to Tee Times for Troops has really helped me to get out of the house and rekindle my love for the game.
"The clubs have been very welcoming and supportive of the programme, and the camaraderie with the club’s members has been great, something I have greatly missed."
A life saver
Prior to getting involved in the initiative, Chris's outlook was so dark that he even credits the work of Combat Stress and their referral programmes with keeping him alive.
He says: “Without the treatment from Combat Stress, I definitely would not be here today.
"I am fortunate for their partnership with Active Stirling and the Tee Times for Troops initiative, as getting out on the golf course has really helped me to focus on something and take my mind off everything else.
"I was in a bad way and mentally in a dark place with everything going on in my head. These programmes have really helped me overcome my PTSD, get out the house and get fresh air.”
Chris served in several countries including Germany, Canada, Denmark, Poland and Northern Ireland. He has now represented his country on the course after competing for Great Britain in the Simpson Cup – an annual Ryder Cup style tournament between teams of injured service men and women, and veterans from GB and the USA which raises funds and awareness for the On Course Foundation.
Chris was the sole Scottish playing representative for the competition which was held in St Andrews on the Old and New Courses.
He says: “It was a huge honour for me to be selected and I am very proud of where I have come from in tackling my mental health. The experience of representing Great Britain here in Scotland, especially at the home of golf, is something very special to me.”
Great Britain defeated the USA to lift the trophy for the first time since 2013 with Chris playing a major role in the victory by winning both of his matches in his inaugural tournament.
“The Simpson Cup was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. I have met some incredible people who all have incredible stories, and I am so pleased to have helped contribute to Great Britain lifting the trophy.”
Part of the community
The progress of Chris has helped the Tee Time for Troops to be recognised and endorsed by the Scottish veterans commissioner, Charles Wallace.
Charles says: “Tee Times for Troops is an excellent initiative by Active Stirling. It goes right to the heart of the challenge of helping our veterans re-integrate back into our communities.
“Providing community-led initiatives such as this does so much to help make the veteran feel valued and a part of what is, for them, a new community.
"There is evidence that initiatives such as this give confidence to veterans and helps them avoid a spiral into depression and the requirement for expensive specialist mental care. Active Stirling deserve great credit for getting this initiative off the ground.”
Allen Gibson, community activation officer and veterans lead for Active Stirling, says: "It is amazing to see the progress in Chris and I am delighted the initiative has assisted him in getting back into the sport he loves and now representing his country. It shows the real positive impact sport and physical activity can have on improving and supporting positive mental health.
“We are now in the process of engaging other forms of sport and physical activity including an exercise referral programme and look forward to continuing to work with Combat Stress and our communities to offer some great opportunities for Veterans."