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Our highlights from 2020

2020 has been an enormously challenging year. From supporting each other through bushfires to pulling together through a global pandemic, the importance of community and connection has shone through time and time again.

Sport has and will continue to play a crucial role as we turn the corner towards 2021. Sporting communities around the country are so important in improving our physical and mental health and wellbeing. They’re hubs; communities that we compete with, lean on during tough times and importantly have fun with.

Here’s a quick look back at some of the ways that our community connected with us through sport during 2020 and we can’t wait to see you in 2021:

Getting active

Through difficult periods of lockdown, we’ve been fortunate to have some amazing contributors helping us share ideas, encouragement and motivation over social media for staying active and supported while at home. From innovative workouts to sound advice, we are hugely appreciative of everyone who both contributed and got involved – it’s truly made a difference and helped us stay connected during an extremely challenging time.

In 2020 our partnership with Archery Australia went from strength to strength. Hugely successful archery events were held in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne early in the year as part of Archery Australia’s ‘VETS into Sport’ program, supported by Sport Australia. Unfortunately, events planned for Brisbane and Adelaide had to be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions, though we’re looking forward to seeing those events – and more – run in 2021.

We were excited to form a partnership with Bowls Australia and we’ve already started working together on initiatives and helping veterans and their families get started in the sport. The partnership is so significant as bowls is a sport for everyone and has a huge footprint across regional Australia.

We’ve only just come off a massive Veterans’ Health Week 2020, where we collaborated with parkrun and Open Arms. Establishing the ‘Team Veteran’ parkrun Club was a big success, with veterans and their families around the country joining in and doing a 5km (not)parkrun (a 5km route at any time, any place and at any pace) during the week. It was great to see social media light up with purple ‘Team Veteran’ camouflage running shirts! We were also delighted to support Veterans’ Health Week events run by the Darwin Off-Road Cyclists and Rugby 1st.

Rugby is of course a sport with a proud history in the veteran community and it was fantastic to support our Sporting Partner Rugby 1st to launch their Vet Friendly Club Program website. We‘re already seeing big interest from veterans and local rugby clubs. It was also great to see the Sydney Combined Forces Rugby Football Club get up and running – a fantastic initiative that will continue to grow and grow.

Battlefields to Footy Fields, the NRL’s refereeing program that we are proud to partner with, built on its success in 2020 and plans are already underway for huge 2021 – something for all of our rugby league fans to start getting excited about!

Indoor rowing is another sport with tremendous take up across our community. It’s been fantastic to be able to work with Rowing Australia to help introduce their innovative ‘GRow program’ – supported by Sport Australia – to the veteran community, and the success of the ANZAC Challenge earlier this year has already got us looking forward to plans for April 2021. In addition, partnering with Rowing ACT on their highly successful ‘Veterans & Families Indoor Rowing Program’ was a real privilege, with participants having a hugely rewarding six week experience, culminating in a fun competition during the final session.

We loved linking with Satellite City BMX Club and the Darwin Off-Road Cyclists (DORC) in August to deliver two fantastic come ‘n’ try days for veterans and their families in Darwin. The feedback from both events was incredible, with many people staying on with the sports!

Congratulations also to the team at North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club for their award-winning pilot Bronze Medallion Course for veterans and to our friends at RSL NSW for involving us in a great volleyball event.

We look forward to working with and bringing on more Sporting Partners next year!

Making waves in the Hunter

It’s been another massive year in the Newcastle / Hunter region of NSW, with our Veteran Engagement Specialist Rachel Kerrigan making a powerful impact on the ground.

Rachel has worked tirelessly with her local veteran community, collaborating with local organisations and groups such as Open Arms, Soldier On, Newcastle Beacon, Young Veterans Newcastle and RSL sub-Branches.

Through trying times, we’ve still been able to support and engage with many veterans and their families in the area, with highlights including:

In an exciting development, from next year we’ll also have a Veteran Engagement Specialist working in Nowra on the South Coast of NSW. This is thanks to the generous support of the NSW Government and NSW Office of Sport, who we are also working with on a veterans volunteering initiative. Watch this space!

Adaptive Sport Program

In February, the ADF Adaptive Sport Program announced the Australian Team that will compete at the Invictus Games in May, led by terrific Team captains Sarah and Shane. Unfortunately, COVID-19 arrived shortly after the announcement and the organising committee was forced to postpone the Games by 12 months. “The Hague 2020ne” will now be held from 29 May – 5 June 2021. In partnership with the ADF, we can’t wait to share with you the incredible stories of the competitors and everything that they go on to achieve together.

This year we were also delighted to be able to pass on special congratulations to Nathan Parker, a former Invictus Games competitor who was named Young Australian of the Year for NSW, something that we’re all very proud of.

In support

Throughout the year, VSA has again had tremendous support and leadership from our Research Advisory Committee who, in addition to providing advice and direction, have also helped with sharing work and insights along the journey.

Thanks also to the many veteran-focused organisations that contribute to the regular Veteran Organisations’ Sport and Recreation Forum. The collaboration between organisations has been outstanding and we’re looking forward to increasing our work together in 2021.

Thank you to the many veterans and family members who have shared their stories, encouragement and advice over our various platforms throughout the year. There are too many people to name and thank, but their contributions have been powerful and we’re greatly appreciative of their time, energy and willingness to support others. You can check out many of their stories here.

Onwards and upwards

In November we were delighted to welcome General Sir Peter Cosgrove as Patron of VSA. An avid sports follower, General Cosgrove was instrumental in bringing the Invictus Games to Australia, being involved from the very outset of the bidding to secure the Games in Sydney right through to the Closing Ceremony. In his first act as Patron, General Cosgrove recited the Ode at State of Origin Game II in Sydney and we’re looking forward to working together in 2021 and beyond.

In the middle of this year, VSA shifted our operations into the charity responsible for organising the highly successful Invictus Games Sydney 2018, the Australian International Military Games (AIMG). Tremendous thanks goes to the RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution, which initiated the creation of VSA as a national program and legacy of the Sydney Games, and their Trustees for their unwavering support. An enormous thank you also goes to the RSL NSW Board of Directors, membership, management and staff for their incredible support of the program since inception and continued partnership to support veterans and their families in the community every day. Finally, a special thanks to the Board of AIMG (past and present) who supported VSA from inception and remain steadfast in their belief in the power of sport to change lives.

2021 promises to be an even bigger year with the re-scheduled Invictus Games looming, the continued roll out of VSA services across the nation and new partnerships in the pipeline. We look forward to sharing this with you!