Posted: 07 May 2019 10 min. read

Doing the emotional heavy lifting – Invictus-style!

The road to the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 has been a varied one for many of the competitors. But every member of the Australian team we spoke to had one thing in common – their emphasis on the support they have had to reach the Games. With this in mind, we thought what better way to really get to know our Australian team than to get to know the people who have been the most important in supporting their journey?

Brian Heilbronn is a lecturer in exercise physiology and sports and exercise science at James Cook University in Townsville. He was an infantry soldier in the Australian army for twelve years. He is the coach of the 2018 Australian Invictus Games powerlifting team. Tiff White is a proud Canberran who joined the Royal Australian Navy in 2006. She is competing in the powerlifting and rowing events at this year’s Invictus Games in Sydney and is captain of the powerlifting team.

Brian on Tiff

I met Tiff when she applied to for the Australian Invictus Games team last year. I remember her as a very shy, reserved and quiet person. She’s a tall girl, but she hunched over a lot and you could just tell that she wasn’t sure of herself. She didn’t cope well in social situations, and found the camps for the Invictus Games to be very difficult. When she didn’t make the team in 2017, she was devastated, completely broken. She struggled to handle the failure.

To remember that girl and see her as she is now is kind of mind-blowing. She stands up tall now, because she’s proud of what she’s doing and who she is. She smiles, she’s got a whole new lease on life. She’s just a whole new person.

I knew I needed to build up trust with Tiff to be able to help her. She’s done a lot of work on herself mentally, too. She has trouble trusting people and doesn’t let people in very easily. So, over time, I became part of her inner circle and we built that trust. When I realised how much of a big deal that was for her, to actually say, I’m going to listen to what you say and I trust what you’re telling me, that was probably when I knew I could really make a difference.

I think as soon as we saw her at the first camp this year we knew that, in terms of performance, but also psychologically, she was over the disappointment from last year. She’s very stubborn, but that’s what makes her determined, and what enabled her to say “Right, I’m going to reach out and get the help I need”, and then put her head down and do the work.

This year, in the camps, she made an effort to get really involved in as much as she could, including things she would have shied away from last year. She tried to be more of a leader this year. That’s a big part of the reason I chose her to be the powerlifting squad captain.

She puts her heart and soul into everything that she does with the team. I think people just don’t know how much stuff she does behind the scenes, including things that we don’t talk about with the rest of the squad, because they don’t need to know about it. She’ll do anything for anyone to try and help their experience be better, because she knows what it’s like to have thingsnot go well. The team itself means a lot to her. She wants everyone to have the best experience they can and she’ll do anything to make that happen.

The support network that she got through the Invictus Games is what matters to Tiff. The fact that all these people were there for her to support her and help her get back on her feet. She probably realised that she needed to sort stuff out for a long time, but just didn’t know how to do it. Then all of a sudden she had people that had her back letting her know they’re there for her.

I want her to just do her best at the Invictus Games and know that she can walk away having given it her all. Regardless of what happens, to see her have this opportunity that she worked so hard for, I’m so proud.

Tiff on Brian

Brian makes me cry a LOT, in a good way though! A few months ago I was listening to him make a speech to the Powerlifting Team, I thought he was talking about one of the other girls, and he was saying such nice things I was getting emotional just listening to him talk about someone else because he was also getting emotional. Then he said my name, for squad captain, and I was like, “What?”

When I met him in those early days I was always super uncomfortable and I just wasn’t in a good place mentally. Everything was always on the bad scale. Especially the training camps, I found them completely overwhelming. I just always went straight to the negative of why they wanted me there – I was eating myself up. But he was a champion, just calm and reassuring and he would come in and say, “You’re doing well. You’ve got this.” And I trusted him so I believed him.

He’s got a heart of gold.  When I didn’t make the Powerlifting Team, even though he wasn’t coaching me he took an interest in what I was doing, how I was going and my training.  I wasn’t actually one of his competitors, but he took care of me. He was the one who, when I hesitated about putting my application in for this year, was like, “Do it Tiff. You’ve got this. You’ve come so far.”

I know he’s proud of me but I just don’t think he realises how much of all the changes I have made are due to him.  I would not be here today doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for him. I would not have come as far as I have if it wasn’t for him. I owe him everything.

Being the squad captain for me means a lot, but it’s also just doing what I do anyway. Checking in on my mates, making sure they are okay and seeing how far they’ve all come, getting together with them and having some fun. It’s quite an honour to be the captain of the team.

The Powerlifting Team is kind of a unique team. No matter what, everyone has each other’s back. We know that if any of us have an issue that we’d all be there in a heartbeat. Those are my boys and my girls. I love them and whenever we come together it’s like we have only seen each other yesterday.

It’s funny, before January last year, when my Invictus Games journey started, I was okay with my own company. I kept telling myself that I was okay being alone. And now, I know that I actually hate being on my own. We all need each other in our lives now. I’ve come to realise that I want more from my life. I don’t just want to sit on the sidelines and watch it go by.

Deloitte are incredibly proud to be a Founding Partner of the fourth Invictus Games, taking place in Sydney from 20-27 October 2018. 

Louise Kelly is the author  of the Blog post.