As a kid, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be part of the sporting world. Sure, I wasn’t graced with being a great gymnast or superstar soccer player, but there’s something about sport that just gets my heart racing like nothing else. There’s a certain energy and atmosphere when you’re surrounded by people who love watching the same sport as you, and it’s unparalleled to any other experience.
In September, an opportunity to work on the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented itself and I took the bull by its horns. Before I knew it, I was headed over to Sydney Olympic Park to work within the team, engaged as Events & Activations Coordinator by Australian International Military Games. My job was to program all things fun and games inside Invictus Games House (which was our equivalent of an Athlete’s Village but without the beds).
I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
At the beginning of my Invictus journey, and much like the spectators who filled our seats, I didn’t quite understand the importance or relevance of the Games. To me, it was another regular sporting event that I’d be working on. Now reflecting back on the past month, I can easily say it was one of the most life-changing moments of my life.
The Games were founded by Prince Harry in 2014 after he witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of war on service personnel. Often in the news you will hear about military and army casualties, but more times than not, you don’t hear about the hero who lost their legs, the soldier who lost their sight or the nurse who suffered PTSD due to serving their country. War, and service alike, has consumed many of the lives of those who come to Invictus, and this landmark event is more than just a sporting competition- it is a second chance at life for most. The Games give our ex-service men and women another chance to put on a uniform and represent their country. It’s a means of rehabilitation and hope for the families who have suffered through long nights supporting those they love. For some, the Invictus Games is the only reason they continue to live, and this should never be taken lightly.
Invictus Games House was a place that we created for competitors, their family and friends to hang out in. It was a place to eat and refuel, a place to relax, a place for fun and more importantly a safe house away from the madness of the media and public eye. It was a community hub for over 1,500 people from 18 different nations. In the lead up to the Games, many long days were spent trying to perfect the space, but I think at the end of the day we truly nailed the brief of creating an inclusive environment where everyone felt safe and welcomed. From lounge hubs to air hockey, live music to daily entertainment, there was always something exciting, fun and uplifting for the competitors and their loved ones to see and do. It felt extremely special knowing I was a part of the team responsible for creating this feeling, and it was even more rewarding to see the faces of the people when they first walked into Invictus Games House. It wouldn’t have been possible without stellar colleagues and a great venue team from Sydney Showground.
The Invictus Games show us it is possible to overcome adversity and that the impossible is possible if you have the will.
The Duke of Sussex
These are some of my standout memories:
- At the very last minute, a couple from Canada decided to hold an impromptu wedding ceremony at Invictus Games House (which I still can’t believe happened). The husband unfortunately lost his memory of their own wedding day due to a catastrophic brain injury, and despite being married 18 years he wanted to relive their wedding day and renew their vows. I cried like a total baby but it was one of the most humbling, loving and special moments of my Games experience.
- Watching the athletics finals was a very emotional time for me. I was so used to seeing the competitors inside Invictus Games House that I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by their physical performance on track. It took all of about 5 minutes for me to begin crying at just how inspiring and dedicated the competitors were, not to win gold, but to cross the finish line and do their best. Ryan Pinney (one of my fave competitors I’d met) managed to surprise us all by winning a silver in shot put. It felt so awesome to jump onto the track and give him the biggest hug after the medal ceremony.
- The conversations I had with competitors, their families and trainers was something I never took for granted. At times, it was overwhelming to hear their stories, but at the same time I was fulfilled to know that even through hardships, these people had overcome adversity and chose to push themselves in a better direction. I will always be thankful for these conversations. They had a really personal impact on me, and I now look at life in a totally different perspective.
- The best part about being a dog person was being surrounded by the beautiful service dogs who were there to support their owners and families through a very huge week. For some people, their dog is the only reason they can get through the day. There is an unbreakable bond between dogs and their owners, and it was heartwarming to see the amazing impact a furry friend can have on someone going through a mentally tough time.
- The Pinney family from Arizona and Nevada were truly special friends I had made, and I continue to stay in contact with them despite the time difference. They are the most uplifting, hilarious, fun-loving and inspiring family I have ever met, and I can’t wait to meet up with them again some time soon. Jason Pinney tells me he is making fairy bread this weekend! So I think it’s fair to say we’ve made a pretty great impact on one another.
In life, we often don’t stop to appreciate our health, freedoms, physical ability and circumstance. Moving forward, I will challenge myself, and I want to challenge you too, to never take these blessings for granted, and to always remember those who have served our countries.
I cannot thank my Yakkazoo family enough for allowing me the opportunity to work on the Invictus Games Sydney 2018. It was one of the best times of my life, and I will carry the lessons I have learnt this past month wherever I find myself. Thank you to the competitors, families and friends for inspiring me beyond measure. I will always cherish the memories I made during Invictus, and can’t wait to see the growth and excitement for the 2020 Invictus Games.