Competing to recover

This article has photo gallery Published on CPL Mark Doran (author), LSIS Jayson Tufrey (photographer)

Topic(s): Sport, Rugby Union, Cycling, Basketball, Golf, Volleyball, Tennis, Swimming, Weightlifting, Invictus Games

Petty Officer Ian McCracken of Fleet Logistics Support Element - Submarines practices his swimming technique during the 2017 Invictus Games training squad camp in Canberra on 13 March. (photo: CPL Mark Doran)
Petty Officer Ian McCracken of Fleet Logistics Support Element - Submarines practices his swimming technique during the 2017 Invictus Games training squad camp in Canberra on 13 March.

Two sailors will be among the 43 athletes to represent Australia when the team competes in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto in late September.
 
Petty Officer Maritime Logistics – Supply Chain Ian McCracken and Petty Officer Medic Latisha Baker were in the final team to be announced at Parliament House on 21 June.
 
The Australian Defence Force and the Returned & Services League are supporting the combined team, which includes 18 serving and 25 former members.
 
Defence Minister Marise Payne congratulated the athletes for making it through the competitive selection process and said every Australian would be behind them as they competed in Canada.
 
“It’s going to be absolutely fabulous,” she said.
 
“There have been months of preparation and it’s an extraordinary commitment to come from being wounded, injured or ill to try and become part of the Invictus Games team.
 
“We ask an enormous amount of our servicemen and women and these 43 people are giving this back in training to be part of the team in Toronto.
 
“I’m immensely proud of the hard work, determination and team spirit they are going to display for themselves, their service and Australia on the world stage.”
 
The Games will host more than 550 athletes from 17 nations, who have become wounded, injured or ill during their service, in a celebration of tenacity and courage.
 
An initiative of His Royal Highness Prince Harry, the international adaptive sport competition uses the power of sport to motivate recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding of the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve their country.
 
Athletes will have the opportunity to compete in a range of adaptive sports including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, archery, athletics, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, and – new to the 2017 games – golf.
 
Petty Officer McCracken, of HMAS Stirling, will be competing for the the first time, after previously helping the team as support crew.
 
In 2015 he suffered a mini stroke while at work, losing movement to the right side of his body and was immediately transported to a medical facility.
 
Rehabilitation for the resulting brain injury came mainly in the form of swimming, a sport Petty Officer McCracken loved from his younger days as a sailor.
 
He has now stepped up his training and is ready for competition, and will compete in the seated volleyball and swimming events.
 
“Training with the squad has renewed my focus on sport, which had been missing from my life,” he said.
 
“There’s been the added bonus of the rehabilitation of lowering my cholesterol levels – I feel great.”
Petty Officer McCracken said the team was a fantastic support network, like a big family.
 
“Everyone has been through incredible journeys of recovery,” he said.
 
“Sometime I think of my injury and feel it’s not as bad as those who have lost a limb, but they say the same thing.
 
“It doesn’t matter what our injury is, we’re all in the same boat.
 
“I’m proud to be selected as an athlete in the 2017 team, I’m also proud and honoured to be able to represent my country alongside other wounded, injured and ill service and ex-service men and women.”
 
Petty Officer McCracken joined Naval Stores in 1996 and transferred to Air Force in 2000. After 12 months he realised his heart belonged to Navy so he returned,and has deployed on multiple border protection operations, including to Kuwait in 2005 with HMAS Darwin on Operation CATALYST.
 
After his last medical review board, Petty Officer McCracken said he was given 18 months to recover.
 
“My ultimate goal is to be deployable and get back to sea,” he said.
 
“Mentally, it’s been tough – losing control of the whole right side of my body meant I needed to learn new skills – like how to brush teeth with my left hand.
 
“There are still some issues with my right hand and occasionally I drop things, but luckily I have great support from my family and Navy.
 
“I can now see there is a finish line – it’s what keeps me going.”