Brave sailor shares story of her struggle

Published on LEUT Tony White (author), University of SA (photographer), PLTOFF Aaron Curran (photographer)

Topic(s): Health, Fitness and Wellbeing, Invictus Games

LS Vanessa Broughill is put through her paces at the University of South Australia in preparation for the 2018 Invictus Games. Supporting her efforts are University of South Australia students Joel Dunstan who is studying Exercise Science and Eliza Gray who is studying Clinical Exercise Physiology. (photo: University of SA)
LS Vanessa Broughill is put through her paces at the University of South Australia in preparation for the 2018 Invictus Games. Supporting her efforts are University of South Australia students Joel Dunstan who is studying Exercise Science and Eliza Gray who is studying Clinical Exercise Physiology.

It was during one of the long commutes home from work at Joint Operations Command that Leading Seaman Vanessa Broughill figured out she had a problem. She was due for major shoulder surgery and a long spell off work and found herself wishing that the hospital stay could be extended to give her relief from a life she was having trouble coping with.

Australian Invictus Games 2018 team member Leading Seaman Vanessa Broughill.

Australian Invictus Games 2018 team member Leading Seaman Vanessa Broughill.

From the outside Vanessa is a high achiever; mother of three, managing fulltime work as an Electronic Warfare Specialist along with study for a paramedic qualification. Yet she was carrying injuries that no-one could see. At the next meeting with her doctor she told him that she thought she had a mental health problem. That was the turning point.

Her doctor set her on a path to receiving specialist help for what is now widely recognised as another medical condition that requires treatment.

Vanessa says she was probably lucky to have had that interaction with her doctor.

“I was never prodded by friends or family to get help, no-one seemed to notice. But after my last child my anxiety levels soared and in the end I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

“The shoulder condition meant I was set on a 12 month recovery program after surgery, and I had an opportunity to set both mind and body on a recovery program as well.”

Formal diagnosis of depression and anxiety meant that the struggle she had been enduring now had a name but she needed to continue to rebuild herself.

The Invictus Games was established to showcase what injured or disabled service people can achieve in sport despite their injuries, rather than how they are limited by them. From its early foundations, Invictus Games has acknowledged that not all injuries can be seen and mental illnesses should be recognised and the struggle to overcome them celebrated.

Previously Vanessa used to have trouble getting motivated to leave the house. Now her involvement with Invictus has led to Vanessa addressing media functions ahead of the Invictus Games.

“They look at me and probably think what is her injury?

“But we have people with mental health issues, cancer survivors, people with MS; and one of the most important things that Invictus does is raise awareness about the injuries we can’t see,” says Vanessa.

Invictus has also made a major change in her weekly routine. In the lead up to the games she trains twice a day in the gym, the pool or the track. She is aiming to compete in discus, shotput, long jump, 100m sprint and indoor rowing. In the pool she will be competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

For Vanessa, two years ago the challenge was to get out of bed. Six months ago it was to make the Invictus team. In October she will be marching out behind the Australian flag in front of a cheering home crowd.

“Even if I don’t win a medal, how could you not call that a success.”