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The sum of us – how sport and a suggestion shifted a soldier’s path

It was a chance meeting through sport, but it would change two soldier’s lives. 

Work, mess hall, room … repeat.

Georgia Burn never really played sport at school. She didn’t play sport as a teenager either, let alone hockey. Before she joined the Army it’s fair to say that Georgia wasn’t into sport at all. So for the 21-year-old signaller to be on the winning team of the Australian Defence Force championship hockey tournament and go on to be awarded the Player’s Player trophy is quite the story, and one that beautifully illustrates both the recuperative and proactive health benefits of sport for the entire Defence community.  

“I wanted to make healthier choices and get out of my comfort zone,” says Georgia of her decision to try out hockey. Life on base had become work, mess hall, room, repeat. “I wanted to do something outside of the routine, something different.” Georgie Burn

So that evening Georgia headed off to the nearby Pine Hills Hockey Club’s training session after work, and destiny took over.

the power of one … sport-mad mentor

Nicole Bradley, 49, an Army veteran who was a competitor and Co-Captain at the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games, was at the Pine Hills hockey club that evening volunteering her time to help with a Back 2 Hockey program, an introductory course for first-timers, or to those wishing to brush up on rusty skills. 

The two met and hit it off. After discovering Georgia was still serving & seeking more social and physical outlets, Nicole put something to her that would go on to irrevocably change Georgia’s life. “So I said to her straight up, ‘Have you heard about the Defence Force hockey club? They call themselves the Aussie Warrior’s Hockey Club’.” 

Hockey was in Nicole’s blood. She’d started playing hockey in primary school and played all the way through her time at the Australian Defence Force Academy until her second deployment in 2005. During this time she was selected to play for Australian Defence Force in the Australian Country Championships. Nicole knew only too well the sense of camaraderie and family the hockey community could provide, having been on the team a few times and having made life-long friends. Those friends who would be there through the highs and lows that come from transitioning from Defence, of facing injury and the ongoing road of recovery. 

Georgia took Nicole’s advice and dived into hockey. “Georgia was completely invested, enthusiastic,” says Nicole. “It was like she had found an outlet.” 

“The greatest week of my military career!”

Georgia asked her hierarchy about going to the ADF Hockey Championships. Each year, States and Territories send a tri-service team to compete against each other in a week-long event from which they select an ADF Team to compete in the Australian Country Championships. 

So Georgia’s team headed off to the ADF Hockey Carnival to play. “It was honestly the greatest week of my military career,” says Georgia. “I was just so anxious and timid because I don’t really do those kinds of things. We were all playing hockey every day, everyone was having fun, it was such a great, positive environment to be in. Because I was so new to hockey, I thought I was going to get judged for sure, but that wasn’t case at all.” Georgia and her team went on to win the event.

Far Left – Nicole Bradley with her Coaches Award; 2nd from Right – Georgia Burn with the Players Player Award

nicole’s journey of recovery through sport

Nicole also knew well the recuperative powers of sport due to her own journey. Separating from Army after 22 years , Nicole started powerlifting at the suggestion of her coach, to build her strength. She went on to compete in local powerlifting competitions, achieving national records in the process. At the 2018 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, she competed in powerlifting and won a gold medal. “I’d never won a gold medal in anything in my life, it was amazing,” she says.  Nicole went on to co-captain and compete in the 2018 Invictus Games, taking a silver in her category. 

Nicole Bradley Invictus Games 2018 Powerlifting
Nicole Powerlifting at the 2018 Invictus Games

But the ‘more than medals’ philosophy of the Invictus Games ensured that the benefits of this memorable time in Nicole’s life have transcended those moments on the podium. Her ongoing involvement in coaching, volunteering, mentoring and participating in local sport is testament to the power of sport to transform veterans lives and provide purpose. 

“I had little to do with the veteran’s community before the Invictus Games. I hadn’t been engaged. But (in 2018) I marched on Anzac Day for the first time. It was about feeling like I had a place.  

“When I left the Army I didn’t know what work I was going to do, how I could define myself or what skills I could use,” said Bradley. “Having the amazing honour of being named a team captain (in 2018) has shown me that I’m really valued, that I’m a real person and people have faith in me.”   Nicole Bradley

Vanessa Bernardo, Director of Marketing for Invictus Australia says, “Nicole embodies the full spirit of Invictus, seeing sport not only as an outlet for competition and winning, but as a vehicle to create purpose and meaning for herself, the local community and her family, via the multiple pathways that sport offers.  

“Her guidance, advice and support to a former-serving member in Georgia is invaluable, and represents our philosophy at Invictus Australia that the Invictus spirit is more than an international event every two years – it is an always-on program to strengthen the wellbeing of the entire Veteran community, and can have impact at a grassroots level. Nicole and her hockey club have experienced the sustained benefit the entire community gets when a veteran uses sport in their recovery process.”

confidence transcends sport field to build career & resilience

Georgia says that because of her involvement with Hockey and the confidence it gave her, she attended her first promotion course and looks like she will be heading onto a Junior Fitness Leaders Course in the future. 

On a personal level, Georgia says that hockey has helped her become a better mentor to others. It’s taught her resilience, to get out of her comfort zone, given her a sense of determination and an enthusiasm to learn from others – all highly valuable traits that will serve a veteran well throughout their military career, through transition and beyond.  

Vanessa says, “Sport has a profound power to change lives for veterans, particularly those who are wounded, injured and ill but as we see here, to also course-correct anyone looking for positive outcomes in all aspects of their lives and to build fortitude, wellbeing and connections. It helps individuals avoid problems before they begin and equips serving personnel with the skills to help themselves as well as other veterans in the future.” 

Words by Todd Cole

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