Cyrille Chahboune: from wounded veteran to top athlete

Moving forward, going further, always getting back up. This could be Cyrille Chahboune’s mantra. Former soldier wounded in Iraq, he is now a top para athlete and his journey is awe-inspiring. Meet a true fighter who combines resilience with humility.

Interviewed by Amélie Rives

A first life full of action

At 19, Cyrille Chahboune joins the Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Force Paratrooper Commandos (CPA 30). His one goal is to join the highly selective “action groups” of this unit, which specializes in combat search and rescue missions (RESCo [CSAR] and RESAL [Airborne Search And Rescue]). Initially assigned to missions to protect French bases in Chad and American bases in Afghanistan, he went on to complete a wide range of training courses and qualifications, notably in communications, an uncommon specialization that soon earned him a place in the RESAL group. He was then once again deployed to Afghanistan, then to Libya. Always seeking to improve his skills, he continued to train and specialize: sniper, long-distance sniper, laser designator, military free fall… His determination and high standards enabled him to pass the selections for the highly prestigious CPA 10, the air force special forces. He was deployed in Mali, Chad, and in Iraq in 2016. This would be his last mission as he was the victim of the explosion of a booby-trapped drone. Evacuated to France, both his legs were amputated.

Sport as a means of rebuilding

Another life begins. He spends a year in the hospital, follows physiotherapy, and relearns how to live. He is then offered a “custom” position at the Ministry of Armed Forces, which would allow him to continue to serve. But he knows that his injuries would lead him behind a desk, in front of a computer. “I refused immediately. My work was my passion. I could not envision myself doing something else.” He chose to move on. “I quickly turned to sport. Firstly, because it is now an integral part of the physical and psychological reconstruction of injured soldiers, thanks in particular to the National Defense Sports Centre (CNSD): Challenge Ad Victoriam, Invictus Games… It allows you to escape, to temporarily detach yourself from life’s difficulties. The endorphins it releases in the brain are extremely powerful.” On leaving the hospital, he joined the team of wounded soldiers representing France at the 2018 Invictus Game, and went home with a gold medal in sailing. A sign that the taste for challenge and the quest for excellence that marked his military career will also accompany him in his new life.

From soldier to top athlete

I also immediately told myself that I could go further. A month after my release from the hospital, I also joined the French sitting volleyball team, which was being set up in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games.” Insatiable, he also trained in individual sports and tried his hand at skiing for a season with the French paraskiing team, before finally opting for pistol shooting, which he will present at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. In 2022, he was crowned vice-world champion in handifly, wind tunnel freefall. It was the start of a new chapter, that of top-level sport. “I’ve always been a sportsman, because training was an integral part of our job. But sport in a club, at the highest level, in competition, is very different.

Perhaps this is where his two lives come together : “High-level sport is another way of representing and defending your country, its values, its flag, and its colors, just about anywhere in the world.” It is a different kind of enlistment, one that gives meaning to his new life as a top-level athlete, in which he perpetuates the unquenchable thirst for challenge and surpassing oneself that he now applies to his sporting achievements, but above all a real mental strength. “High-level military athletes are distinguished by their ability to manage stress and pressure during competitions. In team sports, we are always ready to help strengthen the cohesion and the team spirit.” However, high-level sport is not necessarily a solution for all wounded soldiers. “It can also have side effects. Competition also means taking the risk of failing after months or even years of preparation. After an injury or an accident, reliving such an experience can be difficult to bear.

Athlete looking for sponsor

But at this level of competition, the challenge is not purely athletic. “Apart from physical and technical preparation, my main challenge, like many high-level athletes, is finding sponsors. Putting together a proposal takes a lot of time, not to mention the time spent lobbying afterwards. Out of 10 proposals, if I manage to get one accepted, that’s already a lot. For a sport that lacks visibility, doesn’t generate much money and hasn’t brought home any medals yet, it’s very complicated.” And if the approach of the Olympics highlights these issues and tends to facilitate the search for sponsors: “The real problem is not so much the Olympics themselves but rather the 4 years of preparation that precede them.

Whether it’s a question of sponsorship or visibility, “The Games will be an opportunity to talk about para-sport and get people talking about it, but the challenge will be to make sure that everything doesn’t come to a sudden halt.” This will require proactive and ambitious public policies in favor of para-sport, “we’ll have to fight to get clubs to develop dedicated sections, as this is still all too rare.” “But we also need people to get involved and be proactive, even if it’s not always easy.” Never give up, always forge ahead.

And after the Games? Cyrille Chahboune is already looking forward to 2028 and 2032.