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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?
Jamie Tanner is a 2018 Australian Invictus Games competitor, taking part in wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis. He lives in Ballina on the NSW far north coast with his partner Leesa, her two children and his three.
I was waiting to meet an obligation date that my Mum had set me up on. While I waited, I noticed a girl with great legs. Happily, that girl turned out to be my date, Leesa! That was six years ago and after laughing together all the way through that first lunch, we haven’t looked back since. She’s a very loyal person and incredibly strong – any challenges put in front of her she’ll always find a way to overcome. She’s been my rock for the last five years – there’s no way I’d be here without her.
One thing we both credit our relationship to is our openness and willingness to communicate everything – without that no way we would have survived. My struggles on the mental health side of things didn’t really manifest until six months into our relationship. I guess I was at a stage of denial. Nothing was wrong with me – it was everyone else. Sitting down and openly discussing with Leesa how I felt gave me a bit more of an insight into what was happening to me. It was the driving force for me to see someone and get some help.
People understand injuries that you can see a lot more, and are often more willing to help. With mental health, as soon as you say you’ve got any kind of disorder, people automatically assume that you’re crazy. Leesa understands that even though I might go through a dark couple of days, that snapshot is not what it’s like long-term. At the end of the day, there are more good times than bad. Her understanding that and having that positive outlook has been instrumental. She sees that the bad times don’t define us – they are just a fraction of our time together, a fraction of our lives.
The Invictus Games for us is a manifestation of how far I’ve come in last few years, from going to a place where I couldn’t even go to the local shops to being able to compete in a huge event with hundreds of people yelling and watching and cheering. And it’s given me a platform to be open about how I’ve struggled with mental health.
Being open and able to communicate about this is down to being open with Leesa, and realising the more I can share what I’ve been through, the more it helps others in the same situation and family and friends who need to understand it’s something that happens to many veterans. Mental injury is like any other injury – rehab takes time and patience. Being there, supporting and understanding is what Leesa does, and it means so much. I know I’m punching above my weight here, I’m a lucky man!
I wasn’t hopeful at all about our first date. I had a friend ready to call me halfway through in case I needed to leave and I had a speech all lined up for his mother, who I worked with, about how we just hadn’t clicked but what a lovely boy he was! Then I saw him, and he was so gorgeous. Then we started to talk, and we just clicked. We have the exact same dry sense of humour, which can be really difficult for some people to get. So when he was not only laughing at my jokes but then giving it straight back to me, I knew we had something special in common.
We took it from there really. We both had kids and so we progressed quite slowly and traditionally I suppose until we were sure what we had. Jamie’s physical injuries were obviously evident to me at that stage, but when I met him first he was masking the psychological trauma he was going through. It wasn’t until we started living together a few things happened that didn’t add up and an incident one night ended with him sitting on the floor in tears because he wasn’t able to cope with being out in a public space that night. I asked what was going on and I think that was a turning point – he told me what was going on in his head and what it was like to be out and dealing with people every day. And he said “I think I need help” and next day he still thought that and we got it for him.
Since then he’s always talked to me when he needs to. A life of injuries and illness weighs you down and weighs down the people around you. Jamie’s ability to laugh and be self-deprecating is amazing. But he’s also incredibly resilient, and honest and open in talking about mental health and what he’s been through throughout his service and the journey of rehabilitation. That’s incredibly brave, and his openness and mine hasn’t come without criticism from both people close to us and those anonymous keyboard warriors who judge someone for not being ‘strong’ enough to deal with their problems themselves. But we both know that every time we speak openly about it we might reach someone who may be struggling with what Jamie has struggled with, so it’s worth it for that.
This will be Jamie’s third Invictus Games, and it’s actually hard to put into words what it has meant to us. The Duke of Sussex is often quoted as saying the Games capture hearts and change minds, but I think that’s understating their impact. Four years ago, Jamie would often need to hide in our walk-in wardrobe so that he could block out the world and cope. Now he’s committed not just to competing, but to exercising, leaving the house, his coach, his team, training. For the kids, they’ve gone from maybe not seeing their Dad for three days because he couldn’t handle it, to having wheelchair races in the hall with him. The friends we’ve made, the connections from being present at the Games, it’s so important. It’s a community started from devastation but grown and built through strength and support.
Being at the Invictus Games will be amazing, and it will be the first time the kids see it so that’s great too, but really it’s every step along the way to them that has brought Jamie back into the world and back to us. I’m thankful to be the person he trusts and has faith in to travel this path with him.
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.
Louise Kelly is the author of this Blog post.