Navy people are training hard for the upcoming Invictus Games in Toronto, with a squad of 53 athletes hoping to be selected for the adaptive sports competition.
More than 550 serving and former military personnel from 17 nations are expected to compete at the Games, to be held from 23-30 September.
The Games use sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect of all those who serve their country.
The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’. It embodies the fighting spirit of the wounded, injured and sick service personnel and what can be achieved post injury.
The combined Australian Defence Force and Returned & Services League team has 19 soldiers, sailors and airmen, and 34 veterans in the initial squad.
Australia’s squad will be reduced to a final team of 43 athletes to compete in Canada.
Leading Seaman Marine Technician Matthew Payne, of HMAS Cairns, originally joined as a soldier in 1998, then the Navy in 2005.
Leading Seaman Payne said his rehabilitation consultant suggested he apply to be part of the Games.
“I’d heard about it and honestly didn’t think I was injured enough, but she said I should give it a shot,” he said.
“I have spondylosis, or degenerative arthritis, of my neck and back as well as my knees and shoulders, which means I deal with constant chronic pain.
“Unfortunately, I have been medically downgraded and will discharge from the Navy in April, two days before Anzac Day.
“It means I will be looking for a job and need to change my whole career path.”
Leading Seaman Payne said being a part of the Invictus Games training squad had certainly opened his eyes.
“I went to the selection with an open mind, but I have never met so many inspirational people,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what their mental or physical problem is, because I compare myself to having a splinter compared to what they are dealing with.
“If they can do what they are doing, I shouldn’t have any problems. It’s given me a massive boost.”
Leading Seaman Payne said the Invictus Games coaches and support staff were fabulous.
“I recently had unexpected surgery and they were very supportive. Hopefully by the next camp I will be at the top of my game,” he said.
“I hope to compete in the wheelchair basketball and I want to give rowing a go as well.
“With the 2018 Invictus Games approaching I also suggest all veterans and serving members who are wounded, injured or ill put their application in and give it a crack when nominations come out later this year.”
Coaches at the training camp used the world-class facilities at the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Institute of Sport to help prepare the Australian athletes.
Swimming coach Sub Lieutenant Amy Beal, of HMAS Stirling, said when she learnt about what the Invictus Games did for recovery and rehabilitation she wanted to be involved.
“It’s a way I can give back to the community and Defence,” she said.
“I’ve been injured through my service, so there was no way I could sit back and not support others after experiencing what sport did to help me.
“We are shaping a strong squad and I’m excited about what these guys can bring to the competition.
“Some of the times our swimmers are already achieving have them in medal contention.”
Sub Lieutenant Beal said the camaraderie of the athletes was the best part of the Invictus Games.
“When members are injured they are usually removed from their unit, so they miss the company of their mates and being part of a team working together to achieve a common goal,” she said.
“There have also been people walk in who don’t think they deserve to be a part of the Invictus Games because they don’t think they are good enough.
“At the end of the week they were walking out with their heads held high saying ‘I can do this’.”
Sub Lieutenant Beal said the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney would be a huge event.
“We will have the home ground advantage, and I know a lot of sailors or Navy veterans who want to be a part of the 2018 team,” she said.
The Invictus Games Foundation was established in 2014 to pursue and develop the legacy of the Invictus Games, Prince Harry’s adaptive sport event for wounded, injured and ill personnel and veterans.