Mother-of-three Kelly Leonard claimed four silver medals and two bronzes – and a video of her talking about her pride of wearing the Union Jack went viral.
Now the 44-year-old, who lives in Ellerdine near Telford, says she hopes she inspired others after competing for Team UK in the games in the Netherlands.
The veteran, who is the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust’s Clinical Lead in Children’s Therapy Services (Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy) at The Gem Center in Wednesfield, was vice-captain of the British team.
She said: “Female veterans from other nations have been in contact telling me I inspired them because none of the other wheelchair rugby teams had any girls in them. I hope others now are inspired to have a go.
“Also, an American veteran said to me it was something he never thought he could do, but seeing me made him think that he could do it. I feel my purpose is to get the message out there that there’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.
“It’s important to look for positives in every situation, because if you struggle to see beyond what you cannot do, life and opportunities can pass you by. There are opportunities out there for everyone – you are not limited, even if you are in a wheelchair.”
And as an added bonus, she got a chance to meet Prince Harry, who founded the Games which were held over April 16 to April 22.
“I got a couple of hugs from him when he was presenting my medals, which was lovely,” she said. “My husband Andy was watching and at one point said ‘Alright, that’s long enough!’
“Prince Harry was great fun – we even tried to push him in the pool! He’s like one of the team and he made sure he took time to speak to people. He wasn’t doing it for the cameras either – that’s how he is, he’s a veteran himself and served 10 years in the military. He really understands and sees the benefits to people’s mental health.”
The mother-of-three said she was still “trying to process it” and said to have the opportunity was “overwhelming” as she praised the spirit of togetherness, unity and compassion in the games.
“Certain things really stuck with me. In the wheelchair rugby, we played the Italians, who had never really played before so had been learning the rules on the way to the game, so it was really about trying to bring them on rather than annihilate them,” he said.
“Then we played Canada in wheelchair basketball. One of their players was terminally ill and their coach was hell bent on him scoring a basket. During our game, he was the only one who scored and ALL of the players and coaches celebrated with him on the court, which was really nice and so heartwarming.
The veteran was one of 61 participants from Team UK and almost lost her foot in a horrific motorbike accident in July 2020. Although her limb was re-attached, she lost the talus (lower ankle joint) and so doesn’t have a workable ankle joint.
This means she walks with a limp and suffers with arthritis, sometimes needing a crutch, while prospects indicate she might still have to have the foot amputated.
But still retaining a fierce desire to compete, the 44-year-old, who once competed for Wales in springboard diving and several sports at county level, was introduced to the Invictus Games concept by the 2018 Team UK captain Mark ‘Dot’ Perkins.
In The Hague, during the competition, she won three silvers in swimming – in the 50 meter freestyle, 50 meter breaststroke and 50 meter backstroke – and in the wheelchair rugby, while her bronze medals came in the one-minute rowing and wheelchair basketball.
“It’s something I never thought would never happen to me again. So to combine the honor of representing my country and participate in sports I never thought I’d get to do is incredible,” she said.
And as vice-captain, she was keen to engage with the rest of the team as much as possible, and was delighted to be able to join them on days when she wasn’t competing herself in the week-long extravaganza.
“It was really good to have a couple of days where I could get out and support the rest of the team,” she said. “It was just lovely to join parents, friends and family of the team who were there to support us and support each other.”
In the video which went viral, the mother-of-three talks about making her three sons proud of her and, judging from the welcome she received when she got home, they all were!
“When I got home, I got huge hugs from them and there were a few tears from them and me,” she said. “They wanted to try on my medals and see how heavy they are, even though they were just proud of me doing the events and doing my best rather than winning the medals.”