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My triathlon journey

Dan StendallFlight Lieutenant Dan Stendall last month took part in the World Sprint Triathlon Championships in Canada representing Team GB. In this blog, Dan tells us more about his RAF career, coping with PTSD and being a world triathlete.

So I find myself back at home over a week after representing Team GB at the World Sprint Triathlon Championships in Edmonton, Canada, missing the challenge and the journey but optimistic about my recovery.

Recovery from what, I hear you say. Well it's the 'Wolf' aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Yes, somehow I managed to qualify for the Championships in the same year I got diagnosed with PTSD.

Joining the RAF

Before I joined the RAF I trained as a nurse at the University of Nottingham. From the outset I wanted to work in the Emergency Department as an Emergency Nurse.

I qualified in 2003 and after seeing videos of helicopters and fixed wing aeromedical evacuations, I applied to join The Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service.

After completing a specialist course in Emergency Nursing I went on to undertake two tours of Iraq as the Team Leader of the Immediate Response Team.

Other postings followed in both the UK and Afghanistan, and in September 2013, after serving as a Trauma Nurse Co-ordinator at Camp Bastian, I returned to the UK.

I was diagnosed with PTSD in November 2013 and the last 10 months have been some of the worst for me and my family.

My family are my rock

PTSD has rocked my family's world; it has changed me and continues to change me. There have been times that I thought the nights wouldn't end. Sometimes it's like one step forward, two steps back. But Louise, my wife, and Blake, my son, as always have been my rock.

So where does triathlon fit into all of this? Well it has been my saviour and my distraction from the PTSD. This was my second year competing in the championships and I have fantastic coach in Dr Judith Brand.

I train for over 10 hours a week incorporating all three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. I've raced throughout the year but there have been times when I've not wanted to race at all due to my PTSD.

Finding my feet

Racing on the same course as the elites and being shoulder to shoulder with other athletes in Edmonton was epic but at the same time it was incredibly tough. The 'Wolf' came and sat on my shoulder for the swim which knocked my confidence, and the hard work put in by Paul of the GI Tri Club in Doncaster to help me find a smooth technique, all vanished with the splashes of the 65 athletes racing from the pontoon.

I found my feet again in the cycling and smiled as the crowd called my name across the finish line. I came 51st in the world, and although the 'Wolf' turned this into a negative for a day or two, the advice I got from so many helped me realise how far I'd actually come. 

Supporting the RAF Benevolent Fund

Ten years' service and I have never needed to ask for help…it has been me helping others! Yet our family needed a hand in the right direction, someone who would listen and help us get to Canada. The RAF Benevolent Fund played a huge part in by sponsoring me and I was so proud to wear their logo on my kit.

Doing some fundraising is the next step for me. There is a charity swim on the cards, some community work and lots of other plans to promote the RAF Benevolent Fund.

A big thank you to my family, Judith, RAF Triathlon, the RAF Benevolent Fund, WSi-Signs and Greepers Laces for assisting me to Edmonton. Next stop - Chicago!

By Dan Stendall

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