Aussies ready to fly the volunteer flag at Düsseldorf
With only weeks to go until the sixth Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, excitement is building for 500 competitors from 22 nations, their families and friends, and a crew of volunteers from across the globe.
So much more than just sport, the Invictus Games serves to promote a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country and shows the world how powerful teamwork and community is to the process of rehabilitation and recovery for veterans and their families. Invictus uses sport as a vehicle for returned service people to reconnect to their innate strength, not just in the Games, but in daily life.
From a pool of applications, our Australian volunteers were selected to fulfil roles at the international event this September. Amongst them will be Kaye Mongan from Canberra, Mark Beard from Wollongong and Heather Sharp from Newcastle. All three had previously applied and been accepted to volunteer at the 2020 Games The Hague, but due to the global pandemic the event was postponed, and the three were unable to make the new date. Grateful that their applications were successful for 2023, they look forward to meeting each other in person soon.
When asked what they’re most looking forward to in Dusseldorf, Kaye is quick to respond.
I’m so excited – meeting the other volunteers and supporting everyone where I can. I remember being in the audience at the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney – I was blown away by the atmosphere and the achievement of what some of these guys and girls could do – it was an unbelievable experience – I knew right then that I wanted to get involved.”
The trio each lead very different lives, with Kaye running her local Laurel Legacy club supporting war widows and helping with the care of her grandkids, Mark working as an Emergency Management Officer for the NSW Government and Heather at Newcastle University where she works as an Associate Professor in Education.
What they have in common is their commitment to giving back to their communities, each of them volunteering while juggling their other responsibilities. Mark heads up training programs and mentoring at his local Surf Life Saving Club and has been with the Army Reserves since 2005 and Heather volunteers for her local historical society. Kaye’s work with her Laurel club involved keeping people connected during the pandemic, phoning a list of 80 women throughout lockdowns to ensure they were getting the support and supplies they needed. Each of their volunteering journeys began when they were children, during their school days, supporting a range of organisations.
While Kaye sees any form of volunteering as a way of giving back to her community, she benefits on a personal level too.
Volunteering is giving me more connection, more opportunities. It has definitely enriched my life in so many ways – I’ve made friendships through my volunteering over the years, online and in person, it has been just wonderful.”
Heather echoes Kaye’s sentiments, adding, “it’s important to belong to your community and contribute to it in any way that you can. Whatever that community is – local, state, national, international. It gives me a sense of purpose, that I’m part of a community.”
Why did they apply to volunteer for Invictus?
Mark, Heather and Kaye each have personal connections to the Australian Armed Forces and agree on the importance of veterans and their families getting involved in community events and sports to support their recovery and general wellbeing.
Whether it’s playing a favourite sport for a local team, or helping with the running of activities in the community, these are all opportunities to connect, release stress and can support veterans in fostering friendships and a sense of belonging.
Having served in the Army for ten years, Mark knows the challenges that can be faced after leaving the service and the importance of finding connection in the community.
“When you’re in the defence force, regardless of the service, sport and training is a big part of your life. We all do fitness to build stamina but also for teamwork and I think a lot of people when they get out, voluntarily or due to injury, they often lose that, there’s a bit of a disconnect. If you make an effort to get involved with events like Park Run, you can wear a Team Veteran t-shirt – a visual so people know you’re a veteran – it’s a great way for people to connect.”
As a RAAF wife for the last 19 years, it was through witnessing the impacts of active service on her husband and his mates that encouraged Heather to become interested in learning more about Invictus.
“I believe in the Invictus ideal of supporting injured and returned service people to recuperate through activities and to honour the rehab and effort they go through to compete at the Games. Veterans and their families getting involved in local events can make such a huge impact on them personally. I’m a big believer in the power of organised activities that bring people together and create a sense of belonging, which supports recovery. It’s shown to work.”
Kaye, a war widow, considers military to be a part of her DNA, with her brother, father and grandad all having served in the Army, her husband and uncle in the Navy, aunty in Army nursing, daughter currently in the Air Force and one of her sons having served in the Army Reserves for a decade. Sport has played a key role in the lives of everyone in her family and she is the first to encourage anyone needing support to get involved.
Sports are just so important, being part of a team, giving you a focus, whether you’re actually in the team or taking part in another way – I umpired for ten years at a rowing club – whatever way you can get involved, it’s absolutely worth it.”
Having previously attended the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games as a member of the Australian Defence Force supporting the medal ceremonies, Mark is looking forward to working in the same team in Dusseldorf, this time as a volunteer with Invictus. When he reflects on his experience of the 2018 Games, he considers the cycling medal ceremony as a stand out moment.
“One of the Dutch competitors, Edwin, had one of his legs in Bosnia and his Unit Commander from back then, who he hadn’t seen in a few years, wanted to present his medal. It was like a full circle – seeing that part of the recovery process for this competitor was quite a moving experience.”
It’s this very process of recovery for veterans that Invictus is passionate about supporting – not just for those who compete in the Games – but any veteran who needs encouragement to get back out there. Participating in opportunities such as joining a local Park Run, or Surf Life Saving club can have a substantial impact on mental health and general wellbeing and it’s thanks to volunteers like Mark, Heather and Kaye that events on both local and international scale are able to continue running.
It’s Mark’s recollection of being behind the scenes with veterans before they were presented with their medals in 2018 that truly captures the camaraderie of the Games.
Seeing everyone encouraging each other regardless of which country they were from, supporting each other to do their best and sincerely happy to see each other succeed – it really resonated with me, it was great to witness.”
Words by: Lisa Carlberg
About Invictus Australia: Invictus Australia encourages veterans and their families to connect and engage with their communities through sport. Whether participating or volunteering at grassroots level, to competing internationally at an Invictus or Warrior Games, Invictus Australia leverages the power of sport to proactively foster good health and aid in recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Invictus Australia promotes the physical, social and emotional benefits of sport for all, and shine a light on the unique needs of younger veterans, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning from military to civilian life.
About the Invictus Games: The next Invictus Games will take place from the 9th – 16th September, 2023 in Dusseldorf Germany. Invictus Australia, in partnership with the Australian Defence Force, will support 31 former and current serving competitors as part of Team Australia. The Invictus Games is an international adaptive sporting event for serving and former serving military personnel who have been wounded, injured or become ill during their military service. Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, is the Patron of the Invictus Games. The Games uses the healing power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and celebrate the crucial role played by family and friends.