Dion doing it for his mates

By Kurt Bayer

Private wounded during Battle of Baghak remembers those who didn’t come home.

Dion Taka during wheelchair rugby training at Burnham Military Camp. Photo / Simon Baker
Dion Taka during wheelchair rugby training at Burnham Military Camp. Photo / Simon Baker

When an armour-piercing bullet hit Private Dion Taka, he rolled underneath his Humvee and wondered if he would die.

Two of his close mates, Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, did.

The Battle of Baghak, a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan on August 4, 2012, was New Zealand's bloodiest battle since Vietnam.

Father-of-three Mr Taka had his pelvis blasted into 10 pieces and his sciatic and sacral nerves ripped apart.

Now, after two years of rehabilitation, he is fighting back to fitness.

He is part of a 12-strong New Zealand Defence Force team that will travel to London next month to compete in the inaugural Invictus Games - an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.

And he will be doing it for his mates who never made it home - lance corporals Durrer and Malone.

"Those guys were real sporty guys as well," Mr Taka, 40, said yesterday.

"To be here and doing this is such a privilege and an honour that I want to give it my best and do it for the boys and girls who didn't come home."

Yesterday at Selwyn Aquatic Centre and Burnham Military Camp outside Christchurch, the team of army, navy and air force personnel were put through their paces.

Army physical training instructor Phil Stanbridge said sport and physical activity plays an important role in rehabilitation.

"Every time you see someone come through something traumatic ... and show that competitive spirit and that feeling of elation when they achieve something, I can't really describe it. It's an awesome feeling."

Mr Taka agrees.

He went through some "pretty dark patches" during his rehab, especially when he was diagnosed with chronic regional pain syndrome.

Then he was fitted with a device that sends electrodes into his spinal cord and regulates the pain.

It blocks about 80 per cent of the pain, he says, and has allowed him to enjoy a normal family life, playing with his three kids, and spending time with wife Frances, who he says got him through the worst times.

But he also says sport has helped him on the road to recovery.

"What do you do if you are wounded, injured, or are ill? Life's still got to go on and this gives us an opportunity to do that, to live life as the new normal."

Invictus Games

• Launched by Prince Harry earlier this year.
• More than 400 "wounded warriors" from 14 countries will take part at London's Olympic venues.
• Runs from September 10-14.
• Includes athletics, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, archery, powerlifting, swimming, indoor rowing, and road cycling.
Invictus is Latin for unconquered.

- NZ Herald

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