Athletes have gathered in Canberra this week to try out for a place at next year’s Invictus Games — an annual event for veterans and current defence force members from all over the world, founded by Prince Harry in 2014.
Selection trials for the Australian team are currently underway for the games, which will be held in Sydney in October 2018.
Today wheelchair rugby team hopefuls were put through their paces at Australian Institute of Sport.
Throughout the week, selectors will also assess potential competitors in nine other sports, including swimming, archery, cycling, track and field and powerlifting.
A chance to represent the country again
Darlene Brown, a former serving member of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from Sydney, had the honour of representing Australia at the 2016 Invictus Games, held in Orlando, Florida.
Ms Brown took home a silver medal in her key event — the powerlifting.
This week she’s trying out for the powerlifting again, along with wheelchair basketball, archery, shot put, discus, cycling and rowing.
Ms Brown left the RAN after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but said the Invictus Games had aided her ongoing recovery.
“I became really fearful of a lot of things, I wasn’t able to do much … even driving the car ended up being a drama,” she said.
She said sport — and the support of her team-mates — offered her hope during dark times.
“It’s been quite a big struggle for a long time. Luckily for me, people have started to do work with veterans and through sport … it’s really helped my recovery,” she said.
“I never really realised how much sport did for people, it’s incredible. It just feels good to be able to represent your country again … there’s some absolutely beautiful people here.”
‘Wow’ factor will be strong in 2018
Australian Air Force warrant officer Tony Benfer competed in the games in 2014 and 2016, and will return in 2018 as head coach of the Australian team.
Warrant Officer Benfer said there were currently 80 athletes vying for a spot, but only 40 of them would make it through.
“It’s a privilege to be able to work with so many warriors … I’m very impressed. I’d like to take all of them away,” he said.
Those selected will head to the games along with 550 athletes from 17 countries.
Warrant Officer Benfer said even at trial level the games embodied the spirit of team work.
“Everything that we strive for in defence, we bring into the sports. And that’s what Prince Harry has embodied and also wants us to share … it’s part of the journey,” he said.
Excitement has been building among the Australian athletes since last year, when Prince Harry announced the 2018 games would be held in Sydney.
“To have it in your home country — it’s brought a new sense of ‘wow’,” Warrant Officer Benfer said.
“Prince Harry has already started sledging and we’ve thrown it back to him as well.”
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