Navy vet medically discharged after injury on alpine training exercise speaks about her recovery

A Navy veteran who lives just outside Carlisle has spoken out about how she was medically discharged 25 years ago after 10 years in the military.

Tracey Blake, 50, badly damaged her spine on an alpine training exercise in France. The former mountaineer went from triathlon competitor to recluse after she was medically discharged.

But with support from Help for Heroes, she has been able to get tailored support for her physical and psychological issues, which she says, has changed her life.

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Now, thanks to this help she’s hoping to combine her love of mountains with her son Luke’s passion for trains, as they plan a ride along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

Tracey said: “Leaving the Navy hit me hard as I felt like I’d lost my identity and I was in constant, chronic pain. I was trying to suppress a lot of mental and physical issues and I bottled them all up. I had real anger issues, I shouted a lot and I became a hermit. It was a very dark time in my life.

“I was in the car one day, and there was a lorry approaching and I thought about driving into it. Luke was in the car, unaware of how low I was feeling, but having him there stopped me.”

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Achieving a psychology degree helped boost Tracey’s confidence and encouraged her to stop isolating and start her own jewellery business. She recently moved from Hampshire to a hamlet near Carlisle for a fresh start and her mental and physical health is also improving after contacting Help for Heroes.

Tracey said: “I was told, ‘you need support, we can help you’. Emily Heney, a Veterans’ Community Nurse at Help for Heroes recognised I needed help with my sleep and mental health support – at first, I didn’t think I was worthy as I didn’t go to war whilst I was serving, but I knew I needed psychological support and it really helped with anger issues caused by my anxiety.

“Emily also listened to my medical issues and wrote to several of the healthcare providers to help get the specialist help I really needed. She was an advocate acting on my behalf and I knew she had my back. As well as having muscular-skeletal issues I’ve chronic arthritis in both my ankles, they recommended a certain leg brace and it has changed my life.”

Help for Heroes was able to provide help for Tracey that wasn’t available on the NHS, like a brace for her leg.

Tracey added: “I’ve turned 50 and my life is starting again, I’ve now got hope for the future. As a former mountaineer I’ve always wanted to climb the Himalayas and Luke wants us to go there on a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway journey.

“I loved being in the Navy but there’s no looking back – it’s time to start exploring the world again.”

Her son Luke has recently published a book, called Tales of the Elderberry and Fae Valley Railway series, which is designed to bridge the gap between the famous stories of a little blue tank engine and the extremely detailed ones that can tell you how many rivets there are in a locomotive boiler.

The mother and son adventure in West Bengal India will be a celebration of how Tracey has been able to transform her life and how strong her bond is with her son.

Luke, who is 24 and has autism, said: “I found it very difficult to process the world around me at school so mum used to make up stories about Super Son, Super Mum and their Super Dog William.”

This is where his love of stories began. He said: “She used to tell me these stories as we walked through the woods, to and from school. She used them to explain why people said, or did, certain things in a way that I could understand. I also love steam trains and loved Thomas the Tank Engine when I was very young, however, I got frustrated with the lack of information about each type of engine, so I wrote my own stories.”

There are going to be at least six books in the Elderberry and Fae Railway series. Luke has another two waiting to be published and he has written the outline for another three. He is also planning to write three novels for young adults with Tracey.

Luke said: “I love working with mum and she is so much happier since Help for Heroes stepped in. I help her when she gets anxious and she is better able to tell me why she is feeling bad now.”

Lancs Live – Cumbria