Former special forces commando, Cyrille Chahboune will participate in the Paralympic Games

Former special forces commando, Cyrille Chahboune will participate in the Paralympic Games

On October 3, 2016, in Iraq, you were the victim of the explosion of a booby-trapped drone. Eight years later, here you are captain of the French sitting volleyball team at the Paris Paralympic Games. What feeling does this path inspire in you?
Honor. In the army, I already represented France abroad, and there I will continue as a high-level athlete. At home, for the Games, in my country, it's even bigger. This will only happen once, I'm very happy.

Do you have any memory of the explosion that left you disabled?
We were trying to retake the city of Mosul from Daesh. Suddenly, a drone flew over us and released an explosive. I felt a powerful breath before finding myself on the ground. I hadn't lost consciousness, so I “checked myself” (I assessed the extent of the damage, Editor's note). Seeing my left leg half torn off, I immediately applied a tourniquet. The right was also severely affected. I was repatriated to France after forty-eight hours.

Hospitalization and rehabilitation at the Percy military hospital (Clamart, Hauts-de-Seine) lasted more than a year, following the amputation of both of your legs. Do you remember that terrible moment?
I went through a real obstacle course. At Clamart hospital, after ten days in a coma, I spent a month in intensive care, with a life-threatening prognosis. Only to wake up to find that the doctors had already started cutting off my right leg. In the weeks that followed, due to bacteria and metal residue, gangrene developed. They then decided to cut it down to the knees, and today I find myself a double femoral amputee. The months of rehabilitation were very long, psychologically very hard. I relived the fateful moment over and over again and wondered what I would be able to do with my life. The military meant everything to me.

How did you get back on track?
I had to stay the course, at the risk of guaranteed depression. During my hospitalization, I often broke down. There is no miracle recipe. My close entourage and my family circle allowed me to overcome this ordeal. My best friends came to my bedside from Orléans (Loiret) every two days, and my wife lived almost permanently in the hospital with me. As self-sacrifice is part of my character, I couldn't let myself go. For those close to me, I could not allow myself to sink.

How do we go from a life punctuated by missions in Mali, Chad, Afghanistan and Iraq, to ​​a life in an armchair or aided by prostheses?
I had to accept it, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to move forward. I forbade myself to dwell on my old life, it was a question of life and death. I subsequently had to face something else, notably the way people looked at me. Some people look at you with disgust. It only took me twelve months to regain independence after my accident. My doctors and family supported me very well, and I got answers: what is life after an amputation?, for example

When you leave the hospital, the army offers you a “tailor-made” position. You refuse, for fear of ending your days behind a desk…
Exactly! Hyperactive, I was doing a job that I loved, I would definitely have wasted away behind a desk at the Ministry of the Armed Forces. Looking for something that I enjoyed outside, I naturally turned to high-level sport: skydiving, sports shooting and sitting volleyball.

In 2018, you joined the French military wounded team to participate in the Invictus Games* in Sydney. You win a gold medal in sailing, does that create a trigger?
No, not a click, but I discovered a superb life experience. My first medal! In Australia, on a big regatta. I like competition, it boosted me and brought a lot of dopamine. After losing my legs, I needed them.

You often say you find similarities between the values ​​of the army and team sport…
Yes, between these different universes, similarities exist. Cohesion, team spirit, determination are often found in both worlds.

Your journey is linked to that of your brother in arms, Guillaume Ducrocq, also injured in 2016. You are now teammates in the French team.
Quite. Guillaume, my friend on the ground, was already in the special forces. He was a few meters from me during the explosion, and he too had his leg amputated. We now play in the same tricolor jersey and we train every day at the Haillan club (Gironde). We continue to move forward together, in a sport – sitting volleyball – invented in 1943 by an English doctor to help war wounded. I feel intimately linked to Guillaume, it’s in our flesh.

Recently, you reported experiencing phantom pain. Can you tell us about it?
I experience it every day. An imaginary sensation will make me believe that one of my feet is itching, for example. I particularly remember a very intense crisis last December. In the middle of the night, waking up in a sweat, I felt like someone was stabbing me in my legs and feet. The severed nerve in my thigh disrupts the information sent to the brain. Apart from heavy medications, there is unfortunately no solution.

Six months before the Games, describe your typical week of training.
We follow a pace of five to seven training sessions per week, and have one meeting per month with the French team. Besides that, I do muscle strengthening, on a specialized bike on which I pedal using a crank on my arms. These training sessions also represent a way for me to continue to socialize and have a laugh with my teammates. Precious moments for my physical progress but also for my mental health.

Your wife, also a soldier, was transferred in 2023 to a NATO base in the United States. One more sacrifice in your daily life.
My wife was actually transferred last summer to Norfolk, Virginia. Our 4 year old son followed him. Sacrifices like this were part of my military life before my accident. We had already integrated distancing into our habits. At the moment it's heavy, training for the Games leaves me little time to see them. But they will attend the competition, I hope my son will feel proud for his dad!

What is your view on Paralympic sport in France?
We are not starting as favorites for the competition, unlike the Iranians, the Bosnians or the Germans. These nations have experienced wars, with their share of wounded and amputees. In France, there is still a way to go, because our sport cruelly lacks visibility. We don't generate enough money and have few medals… So it's very complicated to have sponsors. And to pay for training and equipment, you need it. We are moving forward little by little but we are still far behind.

After the Games, what do you hope for?
I would like to continue to progress, in volleyball but also in shooting, because I am also a member of the French shooting team. If my health permits, I would like to continue for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, then, why not, in 2032!

* International sports tournament for wounded soldiers and war veterans and people with disabilities.

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