Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Invictus team thrilled SAS 'weapon' back

Willie Apiata refused to identify his date at the Halberg Awards but was overheard introducing her as his partner. Picture / Norrie Montgomerie
Willie Apiata refused to identify his date at the Halberg Awards but was overheard introducing her as his partner. Picture / Norrie Montgomerie

War hero Willie Apiata will return to New Zealand Defence Force duty in May as leader of New Zealand's Invictus Games team.

The former SAS corporal, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007, is once again lending his patronage to the Kiwi military paralympic team.

Apiata, 43, will travel to Orlando in his role - resuming the duty he fulfilled for the inaugural Games in London two years ago. In a memorable moment during the 2014 opening ceremony, New Zealand stole the show with Apiata leading a stirring haka.

Dave Sherriff, who captained the Kiwi contingent in London where he won a silver medal in seated discus and bronze in seated shot put, will also resume his senior role - saying the team are thrilled to welcome back their SAS weapon.

"It's great to have Willie on board again. He is just so open and approachable, he's just one of the boys," Mr Sherriff told the Weekend Herald.

"He led a haka at the wheelchair basketball and at the swimming events he was there helping people out of the pool. That's the kind of guy he is, he gets stuck in with the team."

Launched in 2014, the bi-annual Invictus Games uses sport to help the rehabilitation of wounded and ill service people.

In May, Orlando hosts the second running of the event with New Zealand sending 21 athletes to Florida - almost double the number which went to London where 12 athletes won six medals.

The life of Mr Sherriff, who enlisted in the RNZAF in 1987, changed forever when he suffered a motorcycle accident which left him paraplegic in 1993.

Re-training so he could see out 20 years of service, Mr Sherriff continues to work for the NZDF as an engineering drawing supervisor and says the Games have quickly become a popular and unique experience.

In London two years ago, Mr Sherriff was also surprised by some one-on-one time with royalty.

Prince Harry, a former British Army captain, championed the London launch of the event and is again helping promote this year's instalment.

Mr Sherriff says this year's squad carries an array of stories - including Kiwis wounded in Afghanistan.

"We have team members [with] varying types of injuries, some motor vehicle accidents, some illness, cancer, some injured ... either through IED explosions and medics injured while carrying Afghan national personnel," he said.

New Zealand athletes will compete across archery, athletics, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.

The 2016 Invictus Games will be held in Orlando, Florida between May 8-12.

- NZ Herald

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