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Ross Austen is the second of GL events UK’s nominated Batonbearers for the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay. A former Corporal serving in the UK Military, as well as an ex GB para-powerlifter, today Ross is a full-time mental health ambassador, motivational speaker, and adaptive athlete in the CrossFit world.

In 2008, Ross sustained significant life-altering injuries while on his last military tour in Afghanistan. During a foot patrol, he stepped onto an improvised explosive device (IED) that caused him to spend six months in intensive care. Ross also underwent forty surgeries in response to the IED damage to both of his legs. As a result, he suffered the painful loss of his left leg above the knee and half of his right foot.

Battling mental health
Ross reveals that his injuries caused a deterioration in his mental health, although he managed to get through the tough times with the help of his family.  The support he received, during this time, enabled him to become the athlete he is now, as well as being a Mental Health Ambassador for Kelly Formwork.

Ross has also become open and honest about his story to help and inspire others. “In my experience, in a male-dominated environment like the military, mental health is a taboo subject. During my years of rehabilitation at Headley Court, I focused on physical recuperation, and I didn’t really touch on the mental aspect of recovery. It wasn’t until I left the service and returned home that I began to suffer with my mental health. I was not surrounded by people who had the same injuries or had experienced the same situation as myself.

 “I found that sports made the biggest difference in my life. I am thankful for the support and being able to be in good health and active again. Without asking for help, it might have been an entirely different story. It is important for people to talk about mental health, because there is nothing to be ashamed about in asking for help.”

Life after injury
Despite his injuries, Ross began to look to the future with greater optimism and built on his confidence, strength, and health. As a result, he quickly developed a passion for powerlifting. Ross’ three-year rehabilitation journey led him from Headley Court to the British Championships, to the GB Team for para-powerlifting, and to the Invictus Games, where he met Prince Harry.

Pursuing new goals
Having reached a ranking of 14th in the world following six years in the GB Team, during the pandemic, Ross moved away from powerlifting and soon discovered his love of CrossFit. “When I joined CrossFit, the adaptive divisions were announced at ‘The 2022 CrossFit Games’ which is exciting, because adaptive athletes are allowed to compete internationally with the best of them. Now I am pursuing a career in Crossfit as an adaptive athlete.”

Adaptive scene
Since his experience, Ross’ eyes have been opened to movements he would never have believed possible with his injuries. He is now trying to promote the adaptive scene and expand the accessibility of CrossFit, sports, and fitness for more people with disabilities and mental health across the UK.

Ross mentions that for people with disabilities or impairments to participate in sports activities, it is necessary to have adequate facilities and appropriate equipment.  Along with providing a level of training and education to coaches or sports providers so that they can understand adaptive individuals’ fitness capabilities. He’s currently working in partnership with another GB athlete to develop a fitness app. It specifically shows every gym in the UK, which is accessible to all adaptive individuals, highlighting useful information, such as wheelchair access.

It is important that sports are accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or mental health. Sport can play a massive part in your life.

Ross AustenQueen's Batonbearer

Words of encouragement
“Break out of your comfort zone and try something new. Sport has greatly helped me in different aspects of my life, from my mental health to keeping a healthy lifestyle. It is important that sports are accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or mental health. Sport can play a massive part in your life.” As for his connection to the Games, Ross advises, “My wife and family are from Birmingham and I have ex-GB team mates who will be competing at the Games, so I will definitely have a vested interest in supporting them.”