A Sunderland armed forces veteran is going for gold.
Dad-of-four Michael Hutchinson is preparing to travel to Orlando in the United States to take part in the 2016 Invictus Games, where he will compete for the United Kingdom in wheelchair basketball and rugby.
The 38-year-old former Royal Artillery bombardier hopes to bring home gold in the international Paralympic-style multi-sport event in which wounded or injured armed services personnel and veterans take part.
Michael, from Thorndale Road, Thorney Close, suffers from lumbar degenerative disc disease – a spinal injury brought on through his time in service.
He served in the Royal Artillery for 15 years after joining in 1997 at the age of 19, but was medically discharged in April 2014 after a back injury, combined with arthritis, caused nerve damage in his spine and down his legs.
He has been left with very limited mobility, but has defied the odds, becoming an impressive sportsman.
Michael, who plays wheelchair basketball for Newcastle Eagles, said sport had played a big part in his life and had helped him overcome depression after his injury.
He said: “After I was injured I was looking for a way to get back into sport, as it was a big part of my life before my injury.
“Just over a year ago one of my friends told me that Newcastle Eagles were looking for players for their basketball team.
“I had played basketball since I was 12 years old, so I went along to give it a go and that is where it all started.”
Michael trains with the Eagles twice a week at Percy Hedley School, in North Tyneside, competing in league games.
He also competes in wheelchair rugby, playing against other armed forces personnel at recovery centres across the country.
Michael was delighted when he found out he had been selected to compete in the Invictus Games via email a month ago.
He added: “I was selected for the games after taking part in trials at Bath University in January this year, where 110 athletes were selected out of 300 athletes to take part in the Invictus Games, in Orlando from May 8 to 12.
“I will be flying out on May 4 and will compete in rugby on May 11 and basketball on May 12.
“I am looking forward to it as it is an amazing opportunity for myself and other competitors.
“The vast majority of people competing are paralysed, disabled or single amputees.
“Sport is a big part of military life, so if you feel like you have lost that, it is a big thing to lose. I am hoping to go for gold.”
Named after the Latin for “unconquered, undefeated”, the first Invictus Games were held in 2014 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, with the opening ceremony attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Harry, Prince William, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The second games will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World, near Orlando, Florida.