A former Paratrooper who overcame life-changing injuries on the frontline to become a champion para-cyclist is putting his force behind a Coventry company’s fundraising for comrades in need.
Jaco van Gass was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on his 23rd birthday whilst serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan in 2009, which resulted in multiple injuries including the loss of his left arm at the elbow.
He has since overcome physical and mental adversity to take on countless challenges from becoming a first-class downhill skier and marathon runner, to representing Team GB in para-cycling and trekking with other wounded soldiers and Prince Harry to the North Pole.
The keen adventurer has now been made ambassador of The Wigley Group and his main focus will be on the Wigley Support Fund, the company’s initiative with official Parachute Regiment charity Support Our Paras to re-train injured, serving and veteran soldiers.
The company has raised close to £100,000 for Support Our Paras from its annual golf day over the last six years and in 2017, launched the Wigley Support Fund to specifically direct its aid towards helping soldiers in need make the transition from military to civilian life.
Jaco said: “My association with The Wigley Group goes back a few years. They have been extremely generous and kind to the Parachute Regiment charity, and supported me with a bike frame which helped a great deal.
“I am excited to become the company’s ambassador and to be involved with the Wigley Support Fund. It has supported many individuals and I hope that with my help, we can reach out to many more as there is a significant need.”
Robert Wigley, chairman of The Wigley Group, said: “We are delighted to have Jaco on board as our first brand ambassador and to build our relationship with him, particularly with our plans to take the Wigley Support Fund further forward.
“Jaco represents a lot of what we want to achieve through the Fund. He has taken himself from a very low point in life to the person and athlete that he is now, and that encapsulates everything we would like to do for a lot more wounded, injured and ex-military personnel.”
The Wigley Group is supporting Jaco, a multiple national champion cyclist and triple gold medallist at the Invictus Games, with his next challenge, which has been described as the ‘Tour de France of mountain biking’.
He will be raising money for The Wigley Support Fund when he takes on next year’s Cape Epic, the annual mountain bike stage race in South Africa which covers more than 435 miles over eight days, with fellow wounded veteran and amputee Stuart Croxford.
Training is underway and Jaco recently cycled Ilmington Hill, the highest point in Warwickshire which will be part of the fourth stage of the 2018 OVO Energy Tour of Britain coming through the county on Wednesday, September 5.
He will be cycling the Bristol stage the day before as part of a team riding the entire route one day ahead of the professional racers, which will include Tour de France champions Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.
South African-born Jaco, who won bronze at the Para Cycling Track World Championships in Rio this year, said: “I have had this obsession with Cape Epic for a number of years and the challenge it represents because I am a road and track cyclist.
“No disabled team in terms of both riders having a disability has ever completed Cape Epic. It is the hardest multi-stage mountain bike open race and we are hoping to make history.”