Sunderland RAF veteran prepares for fourth Paralympics in Rio

John Robertson. Picture c/o Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund
John Robertson. Picture c/o Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund
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An RAF veteran left paralysed after an accident is preparing to set sail for his fourth Paralympics.

John Robertson, 44, is once again taking to the waves as part of a three-man sailing team in the Rio Games.

John joined the Royal Air Force in 1989 and served as a weapons mechanic on Harrier jump jets. But his life was turned upside down in 1994 when he was paralysed after a motorbike accident.

He has since fought back to become one of the world's top athletes.

“It takes you a while for your mind to adapt and actually accept that you’re paralysed, and that you’re disabled for the rest of your life," he said

"I didn’t plan on being a Paralympic athlete and sailor and going to four Olympic games. I really loved the RAF to bits.”

John Robertson. Picture c/o Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

John Robertson. Picture c/o Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

John grew up sailing with his family, but it was only after his injury and initial recovery that sailing became a true passion and key part of his rehabilitation.

He and his teammates Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas have won several world championships, but an Olympic medal has eluded them in the past three games.

They narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in London when their three-person keelboat Sonar team were knocked from third to fifth by a "harsh" four-point penalty due to an off-water technical error.

John said: “I think that in our mind, when we’re racing in Rio in September, we’re going to win that gold medal.”

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The 44-year-old is one of a number of former servicemen and women who have received help from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, enabling him live independently in a specially adapted home in Sunderland.

“I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today without the help of the RAF Benevolent Fund," he said.

"The support has always been there. Without them, I just wouldn’t be able to go to the Games and have that confidence to come back and live in my house in Sunderland and get on with the job at hand.”

When not sailing competitively, John supports RYA Sailability, which teaches sailing to young people and adults with disabilities, speaks at schools about his life and sailing, and helps to coach members at his local yacht club.

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