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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?
Mark Reidy is a veteran, having spent 16 years in the Australian Army, for 9 of which he was deployed overseas. He now runs a program for veterans and first responders in Adelaide called The Road Home and is an Australian Invictus Games team coach. Emilea Mysko is a veteran, also from Adelaide, and a student, a mum and a newbie cyclist. She is competing in cycling and indoor rowing in this year’s Invictus Games in Sydney.
Emilea rocked up to, or I should say hobbled into, a recruitment session that I was having about taking part in the Invictus Games in a moonboot. She’d had surgery to fuse her foot bones just a few weeks previously but she was already focused on what she could put her energy into next. That was a pretty good introduction for me to the kind of person she is. I had known a bit about her prior to that. I knew she was a very fit person and it was obvious that she needed something to get her back to that. But when I put her on a bike she was very sceptical. She actually looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested it, but I could see something. She’s got a streak of determination and she just keeps going.
We’ve had a few setbacks – she took a wrong turn in her first individual time trial and when I entered her into her first criterium race, it was mainly blokes and she was lapped three times! But she never gave up. I thought she was going to throw the bike at me after that race! She didn’t talk to me for a few days, even though she actually ended up winning fastest female at that race!
But she’s amazing, she just grabs onto things, and when she does, she takes them and runs with them. She’s just taken up indoor rowing and she’s great at that too. My foundation sent her to the Warrior Games in August. It was just supposed to be for experience, but she won four medals! I was pretty proud. I push her and challenge her but I think she understands now that I’m just trying to prepare her for what’s coming up, for competitions. She needs to have confidence in herself and realise that she can accomplish things, and she’s getting there with that too.
I think the Invictus Games have been amazing for her in terms of giving her an opportunity to represent her country again and represent on her terms. She’s found herself again and she’s found support in being part of a big team which I think she missed, the comradery of it. For me, I know her story and how far she’s come, and just getting her from there to here and seeing her at the start line is where I get my satisfaction from. That’s when I feel proud and emotional. Because I know what it’s like to be in that dark space where you don’t want to socialise, you don’t want to connect, you don’t want to get out of your house. And for her to get to that start line, to get there after months of training and being with the team, it’s amazing to see.
She’s so funny, she’s so determined and I think she’s a great role model for female veterans, and that’s so needed. We have so many female veterans out there suffering at the moment, and Emiliea is a voice that can speak out and show them that they can do it, that life can be better.
For the Games, I hope she can remember where she came from and where she is now, and how far the distance is between those two points. And that she can enjoy every minute of whatever happens, enjoy this pathway, because this is the pathway that’s leading her on to a better life. I also want her to stop focusing on the fashion!
Mark saved my life. I know if I say that to him he tells me that I did it myself, but truly I’m not sure where I’d be if I hadn’t met him. I’d just come out of a third stint in a psychiatric hospital, I was suicidal, and my psychologist told me I needed to meet him and get on one of his programs. He runs The Road Home, which raises funds and supports programs and research for veterans’ wellbeing and health.
From the first time I met him I could see his passion and enthusiasm, he really inspired me and made me feel that he cared about other people. As a coach, it’s not just his confidence in my abilities and my success that makes him great, it’s the things he does to support me that outweigh this. After a race when I’m exhausted, he practically props me up, holds my bike and takes off my race bibs. He cares so much, he goes above and beyond in everything that he does.
He’s an amazing person – he completely devotes his life to helping and supporting veterans. I have so many stories, even apart from what he’s done for me, and I still know I could call him at any hour of the day and he’d be there. Only in the last few months, he coordinated this huge search for a veteran who had gone missing, he got a psych referral for a female veteran who I had visited who was struggling, and he’s supporting a guy we know who is getting a medical discharge and is really having trouble with that. He knows when people need space, he knows when they need intervention and he’s got this ability to just pull a network together. He was in the corporate world for 11 years after leaving the Army, and then decided that he wasn’t done giving back, and set up this model that the foundation has taken on.
One of the things I struggled with in reconnecting with veterans was that I was always comparing myself to other people, and not feeling worthy of being in the veterans community. One thing I’ve learned from being around Mark is that we’ve all got a story, everyone’s story is different. But at the end of the day we all come from the same place and we all need the same things – a sense of friendship and a sense of belonging.
Helping veterans is just completely what he’s about. So when he sees his South Australian competitors at the Invictus Games, I think that will mean a lot to him because he’s seen us at our worst. Like when he met me, I was at one of my lowest points. Twelve months ago I was on one leg, I couldn’t see a future, I literally had no hope in life. I thought my daughter would be better off without me. For him to be able to see that transformation and know what impact he’s had on us, I think it will be overwhelming for him.
He’s not perfect! He doesn’t understand why I would need to match my cycling cleats with my new uniform – “stop focusing on the fashion Emilea”. He’s also really slow going up hills – the other day I was waiting for him on the bike for 15 minutes at the top of the Adelaide Hills, myself and a group of tourists had a good laugh!
But through how he’s approached me and what he’s done, rather than what he’s said, he’s allowed me to find myself again. He’s given me purpose, and he’s given me hope. I want to say thank you for that.
Deloitte are incredibly proud to be a Founding Partner of the fourth Invictus Games, taking place in Sydney from 20-27 October 2018. For more stories and details visit our Invictus Games webpage.
Authored by Louise Kelly.