Volunteering at the Invictus Games – a path to connection and veteran engagement
June 2023: This September, Wollongong local Mark Beard, will join 500 volunteers from around the world to support the running of the Invictus Games 2023 in Dusseldorf, Germany. This will be the second Games that Mark will attend, his first time was as a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 2018 at the Sydney Games, as a part of the medal ceremony team. Mark recalls a major highlight from his experience, during the cycling medal ceremony.
One of the Dutch competitors, Edwin, had lost a leg 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.”
Being behind the scenes of the 2018 Games inspired Mark, as he witnessed competitors from all countries showing support for each other and volunteers who rallied together to make the event special for veterans and their families.
“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.”
MATES FOR LIFE
Mark’s interest and curiosity with the military was sparked by his grandfathers, who each served in the forces, Air Force WW2 and Army respectively. When the opportunity came for Mark to join the Cadets during his school days, he didn’t hesitate.
“I’m still mates with people I did Cadets with back in the eighties. I was drawn to the atmosphere, the camaraderie – doing things that are challenging, together as a team.”
He’s been a member of teams that support communities ever since, professionally and as a volunteer. Joining the Army at 19 years old, he served for ten years, then after a stint of travelling, became a member of the Police Force in Western Australia for a further 16 years. Mark understands first-hand the importance of sport and being a part of a team after leaving the forces and can see the power in these approaches for veteran recovery.
“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 parkrun, 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.”
These days Mark is an Emergency Management Officer for the NSW Government, and has been deployed with the Australian Defence Force during the 2020 bushfires as a logistics manager fulfilling logistic duties for both NSW and the ACT.
Alongside his day job, he’s also been a member of the Army Reserves since 2005 and volunteers with his local Surf Lifesaving club doing patrols, mentoring age managers and running the training programs. He finds it personally satisfying to support the community in any way he can, enjoying being able to give back.
“When I was the age manager for nippers, I’d often get parents thanking me for helping their kids build confidence with skills to survive in the surf. Some of them were terrified of the ocean when they first started, then they pushed past that fear and are now on patrols out there rescuing people.”
Mark has also found that his military skills transfer well to developing and delivering Surf Life Saving training programs, which he is running with a volunteer from the Air Force.
“There’s no cutting corners with us, we’re delivering quality training and our goal is to improve progression in the club, especially retaining younger kids after nippers. So far we’ve turned around declining numbers, I think we’re making it work.”
Looking ahead to September, Mark is excited about heading to Dusseldorf and being a part of another team with a common goal. He will be in a ceremonial duties role once again, but this time as a volunteer with the Invictus Games. The group are yet to meet in person, but have connected via a Facebook group created by one of the volunteers.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone – people from countries all over the world – the camaraderie in our Facebook group has been really supportive. I can’t wait to get over there.”
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.