Taking centre stage in front of more than a billion people is something only dreams are made of.
But for an injured war veteran from Stedham, and his trusty assistance dog, Varick, that dream became a reality on Sunday (September 9).
Former Lance Corporal Jon Flint, 37, played an exciting part in the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games alongside his canine partner, who was the only assistance dog involved in the ceremony.
Jon, who joined the Royal Marines in 1994 and has fulfilled a number of roles, took part in the prestigious event as a member of the Help for Heroes (H4H) Band of Brothers, a support network for wounded, sick and injured service personnel.
Jon and Varick performed alongside eight other members of Help 4 Heroes’ Band of Brothers, who took to the Olympic arena on a Segway vehicle carrying an Olympic flare and holding Varick’s lead as he ran alongside him.
“It is difficult to put it into words. It was a dream come true. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, there were people screaming and clapping, it was just amazing,” said Jon.
Following an abseiling accident in 1996, Jon has sustained permanent spinal injuries, and relies on a walking stick – with Varick to assist him.
He was one of around 2,000 performers who have been taking part in rehearsals for the eagerly-awaited ceremony since August.
“Rehearsals were hard work, but it was an honour to represent Canine Partners and Help for Heroes at such a massive event. They have helped me so much. I was there to represent them, they are two fantastic charities.”
Varick, who was united with Jon in November 2011, plays a vital part in assisting Jon and helps him with various tasks, including picking up Jon’s walking stick, wallet and collecting Sarah, Jon’s wife if help is ever needed. He also plays a crucial part in ensuring Jon keeps his balance, as neurological damage as a result of Jon’s spinal injuries has affected his left leg and his balance.
Speaking about Varick, Jon said: “I love him. He has helped me get out of a pretty dark place and he is just an amazing animal.
“He has changed my life so much.”
Jon added: “It was a fantastic honour to be involved in something that big and I really believe that the Paralympic Games this year has changed peoples perceptions of disability for the better.
“I am really hopeful it will continue to show that there are people out there who are less able-bodied but have still got drive and determination to achieve what it is they want out of life. I think it has been inspirational.”
Jon is starting a history and politics degree this month from Portsmouth University and hopes to take up archery ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio.
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