Invictus Games star trains at Glyndŵr ahead of tournament
September 11 2014
A wheelchair basketball player training at Glyndŵr University will represent Great Britain at the inaugural Invictus Games – just months after taking up the sport.
Alastair ‘AJ’ Pingram has been practising at Glyndŵr sports centre in Wrexham ahead of the Games, which kicked-off on Wednesday in London.
The 38-year-old from Llangollen is one of the stars of Rhyl Raptors’ basketball squad and looks forward to appearing at the Copperbox Arena with Team GB this Saturday.
A teaching assistant at Ysgol Dinas Bran, AJ was a professional hockey player with the Royal Navy before a freak accident saw him permanently damage both ankles in 2000.
He now walks with a stick and is forced to use a wheelchair over longer distances, but has a new-found lust for life after taking up basketball five months ago.
AJ is also making waves in rowing and is targeting the 2015 Rio Olympics, where he hopes to represent his country on court or in the water.
“Representing Great Britain at the first Invictus Games is a massive honour for me,” he said.
“I only took up wheelchair basketball earlier this year after being referred to a gym by my doctor and told to look at my fitness.
“I was chosen for the GB squad within a matter of weeks after attending a few sessions with Cheshire Phoenix.
“At the GB trials the work got harder and harder and people were dropping out but I stuck with it and made it into the team, where I play at point guard.”
AJ added: “I’ve also been playing for Rhyl Raptors and training here at Glyndŵr University in the lead-up to the event. Wrexham seemed the perfect place to be to get focused and ready for the games, so I’d like to thank Glyndŵr for their support.”
Following the accident - when he fell while playing hockey and damaged the bilateral ligaments in his ankles – AJ had to have eight operations.
“I put on a lot of weight and felt pretty low,” said AJ, who is married to Joy and has two children, Luke and Yasmin.
“But my amazing family and finding basketball have helped me turn things around. I’ve lost five stone and feel as fit and strong as ever.”
He added: “As I said, taking part in the Invictus Games really is a dream come true.
“I had applied for tickets to watch the event, and now I find myself representing Great Britain at the Copperbox, which was where the London 2012 Olympics boxing matches were held – it’s an incredible turnaround.”
With the backing of Help for Heroes, who built a custom-made wheelchair for AJ ahead of the tournament, he is confident GB will perform well against the likes of the USA, who are red-hot favourites for the title.
“The accident left me so frustrated; I was super-fit when I was in the Navy and then left in a wheelchair, on painkillers and feeling sorry for myself,” he said.
“That’s all changed now, but not just for me. North Wales is a hotbed of talent and the place to be for wheelchair basketball, especially Rhyl.
“The scene there is great, with many people moving from all over the country to join us, largely due to the impact of our coach, Mike Hayes.”
AJ added: “The Invictus Games are going to be amazing but I’ve also got one eye on Rio. Whether that be in rowing, playing basketball or maybe another sport, who knows?
“Whatever happens, recent years have taught me to grab every opportunity and enjoy life.”
For more information on the Invictus Games, visit the website: www.invictusgames.org