By Sam Blackledge
When Patrick Medhurst-Feeney walks to the crease with a bat in his hands, everything goes quiet.
“Before a match my brain is going nuts,” he says.
“I am looking for danger, looking for anything that is not right. It’s what I was trained for.
“As soon as I step on to the cricket pitch, all that goes away.
“It just shuts off all the noise and the fear inside me.”
Patrick joined the Army at the age of 19, and was posted to his first tour of Afghanistan in 2011 as a veterinary technician.
Just weeks after the operation ended, during an adventure training exercise in Germany, he suffered a severe back injury.
After two years of physiotherapy he was deployed again, this time as a vehicle search dog handler.
“That job took its toll on me,” he says. “I was in and out of the patrol base in Helmand Province and eventually my back just gave up the ghost.”
But as his physical scars healed, Patrick realised he was suffering from a different sort of trauma.
“My second night back home was firework night,” he says.
“I was frightened by the explosions. I ended up having a massive panic attack and a breakdown.”
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and referred to Help for Heroes at HMS Drake.
Embarking on the long road to recovery, he discovered the charity was looking to form a cricket team.
“I thought I would give it a go,” he says.
“It just ignited this love of cricket again and gave me a focus.”
He has re-modelled his batting technique and accepted his physical limitations – the league authorities have even amended the rules to fit him in.
“I’m not able to run, so I rely on a runner when I’m batting,” he says.
“Usually you can only have a runner if you’ve hurt yourself during the game, but they made an exception.
“I can still play proper cricket shots and I can field close in. I just can’t go racing around the boundary.”
One of Patrick’s team-mates says he took a blinding slip catch during a friendly game last weekend. He admits old habits die hard.
“That part of my cricket brain tells me I can still dive around,” he says.
“It hurts, but I still get that buzz from being involved.”
Patrick says the unique nature of cricket makes it a perfect fit for his recovery.
“If you don’t focus on the ball you get hit, and it bloody hurts,” he says.
“I can stand out there for a whole afternoon and not do anything, but because I am focusing on the ball, and what everybody is doing, I shut my brain off from worrying about what is around me.
“It makes me feel happy and relaxed. After a game I have two or three days of a mental high.
“It gives me that endorphin rush. I find I’m more proactive at home, I’m more involed in everything. My wife loves it too, because it gets me out of the house!”
“It’s one of the big things I have missed since I left the Army. You’re always part of a unit, part of a group. When I got injured I lost that.
“Now I can be a normal person, just one of the lads again.”
Yelverton coach Chris Cottrell says Patrick is an inspiration.
“He is just absolutely fantastic,” he says.
“He’s a lovely lad. I know he’s been through his dark times, but this is bringing him back out into the light.
“Just to see the love that he has for the game when he goes out there, rather than sitting at home thinking too much, I am so proud of him.”
Check out Patrick’s blog, The Crippled Cricketer, at thecrippledcricketer.wordpress.com.
This article was first published in the Plymouth Herald. Pictures by Penny Cross.