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By Rory Brosius, Advisor for Military Families
Have you ever heard that catch ‘80s earworm by Men at Work, “Down Under”?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover!
Living in a land down under!
Ha! Good luck getting it out of your head now! So why am I bringing back the ‘80s on this blog?
THE INVICTUS GAMES!
At the end of October, my husband Matt, a Marine Corps veteran, and I traveled to Sydney, Australia, for the fourth Invictus Games, an international sporting event where competitors are wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans. Over the past five years, we’ve been fortunate to attend Invictus Games all over the world, and they have become something of a family tradition for us.
We’ve seen the most inspiring and emotional demonstrations of teamwork, grit, and determination that I’ve ever witnessed. These competitors do not mess around — just ask anyone who has watched a wheelchair rugby match (aka “murderball”) or watched a triple amputee win a silver medal in rowing. We are lifetime sports fans, so we enjoy attending as many sporting events as humanly possible, but the Invictus Games have also always included a focus on the mental health of the military-connected community.
We arrived halfway through Invictus this go-round and started off our adventure (after a quick stop for authentic Australian meat pies, of course) by attending “An Unconquerable Mind: A Discussion On Veterans Mental Health,” an event highlighting the role of mental health in recovery and transition. The event tackled some truly tough topics like suicide, chronic pain, and the challenges faced by women veterans. Panelists were all subject matter experts and had lived experience with mental health and recovery.
Caregiver and Executive Manager for Veteran Services at RSL Lifecare, Leesa Kwok, who is also an Invictus Sydney Ambassador, bravely shared about facing an uncertain future in the face of her partner Jamie’s mental health condition. Leesa discussed how important it has been to seek help for herself and her children, which has been a key part of keeping their family healthy. She talked about her pride in seeing Jamie reach out for help and find healing and purpose through sport. In an article published before the Games, Leesa said, “we won’t be cheering because [Jamie] is wearing green and gold. We’ll be cheering because he’s living.”
Matt and I share Leesa’s hope and joy for Jamie, because they have both become our close friends. We met last year in the athletes’ village after presenting at the Toronto Invictus Mental Health Summit. Leesa and I bonded over our passions for mental health, while the guys bonded over their shared service — Jamie served in the Australian Army in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But Jamie and Matt also bonded over their experiences with transition and mental health.
Seeing my husband connect with someone who has also struggled with mental health challenges but has fought to overcome them is something I value at my very core. I’ve also found wisdom and comfort in Leesa’s journey and I am so grateful that she is willing to share her story in order to help spouses like me. To be honest, struggles with mental health can be really lonely, and recovery for our family has meant that we have had our share of tough days. But we have also found hope in a community of support that understands our journey.
Over the past year, our families have kept in touch with the world’s longest Facebook messenger conversation (started at last year’s closing ceremonies). This year, we traveled to Sydney to see Jamie compete in his final Invictus Games. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little emotional while we sat with Leesa and the kids and saw Jamie roll onto the wheelchair rugby court. Seeing him win his first gold medal as a member of the Australian wheelchair rugby team was the icing on the cake.
But Invictus is not just about the medals, and it isn’t just about the sport. Ultimately, the power of the games lies in the powerful connections forged between competitors, family members, friends, and supporters.
In his remarks at the closing ceremonies, His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, who founded the Invictus Games, shared,
“The secret to the success of these Games has been accepting that mental health is the real key to recovery. Our competitors have helped turn the issue of mental health from a sad story to an inspiring one. They want to live, rather than just be alive.
When you accept a challenge is real, you can have hope. When you understand your vulnerability, you can become strong. When you are brave enough to ask for help, you can be lifted up. You can start living, doing, feeling — not simply surviving.
And when you share your story, you can change the world. And I can’t think of a better way to continue serving your country.”
I am so thankful that Jamie and Leesa accepted the reality of their challenges and shared their stories, because I know if they impact others even a tiny fraction of the way they have impacted us, the world will be a better place.
Oh, and, by the way, after singing it all week, my husband finally got his wish at the closing ceremonies where Colin Hay of Men at Work appeared at the closing to sing… you guessed it, “Down Under.”
Until next time,