Winning isn't everything at Invictus Games

Australian Invictus athlete Jamie Tanner will compete in his third and final Games in Sydney.
Australian Invictus athlete Jamie Tanner will compete in his third and final Games in Sydney.

Prince Harry's Invictus Games unite thousands of wounded veterans from around the world through sport, but unlike most sporting contests this event isn't about winning medals.

For the 500 competitors from 18 countries competing at the week-long Games in Sydney this month, just being there is victory enough.

While they have gone through rounds of qualifications to secure a spot on their country's team, selectors have also given huge consideration to who will benefit the most from the Games in terms of their rehabilitation.

For corporal Taryn Barbara, being part of this year's Games has helped her deal with the mental and physical demons she faces on a daily basis because of hip and back injuries she suffered during an army physical training course.

The Brisbane-based army physical training instructor will compete in swimming events at the Sydney Games, which run from October 20-27.

"Being in the military, you are always trying to push through and hope things will get better but you end up making it worse. I was in denial about how bad it was," the 32-year-old mum of two said.

"Invictus has been one of the best things I've done, just with helping my mental space.

"I think sometimes you become jaded and look at all the negatives but Invictus highlights the positive things."

Sydney is the fourth city to host the Invictus Games since the inaugural event in London in 2014.

Australia will field its biggest team yet, with 72 athletes competing in 11 adaptive sports including athletics, archery, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby.

Prince Harry's inspiration to create an annual sporting event for wounded and ill veterans and serving military personnel came from his decade-long service with the British Army.

He was convinced sport could play a key role in helping wounded veterans "fix their lives" and raise awareness about the role they can play in the community.

Last year Harry cheekily summed up the ethos of the Games, telling British team members preparing to compete in Toronto: "Whether you are blowing smoke out of your arse as you cross the line makes no difference. It is what you are achieving, what you have achieved to get there."

For Invictus Games Sydney chief executive Patrick Kidd, the event is all about celebrating the abilities of wounded veterans.

"It's not about the person who's best in their class at a particular activity. Medals are not what the driving force is," he said.

"The Games are used as a platform for them to aim towards, to help stimulate their recovery and rehabilitation but also to help them get on and do something afterwards."

Former soldier Ben Webb was part of the first Australian team that competed in London and describes his involvement as life changing.

Mr Webb, 35, joined the army straight after high school in 2001 but during his 12 years of service developed chronic pain syndrome as the result of several joint injuries.

He tried to hide the pain, a mistake that led to an emotional breakdown.

After receiving a medical discharge in 2013, he began volunteer work as a personal trainer with Solider On in Adelaide, where he heard about the London Invictus Games and soon found himself part of the Australian swim squad.

Mr Webb credits the Games as being a major turning point in his life as they shattered his feelings of loneliness and gave him the chance to make new networks, which ultimately led him to a job running the Veterans' Centre at Dee Why RSL on Sydney's northern beaches.

"I usually describe to people going to compete for the first time that Invictus is probably the most challenging and most exhausting experience they are going to have, but also the most rewarding," he said.

While plenty of attention will be on Harry and his new bride Meghan when they attend the Sydney Games, organisers are determined that family and supporters of the veterans get their share of the spotlight.

Leesa Kwok will be one of them.

Her husband Jamie Tanner, 35, is competing at his third and final Invictus Games, with their children Danyan, 13, and Isobelle, 15 cheering him on in wheelchair tennis and rugby.

Mr Tanner developed several musculoskeletal injuries, PTSD, depression and adjustment disorder during his decade-long army career, which ended in 2011.

Ms Kwok says Invictus plays an invaluable role in recognising the "good, the bad and really ugly" the families of veterans go through while they are on the rehabilitation journey.

"Invictus is the one event that really honours and recognises that the recovery and rehabilitation of the wounded and ill serviceman or woman is not an individual journey, it's a journey that the whole family has to traverse," she said.

For her family, their greatest joy is the fact that Mr Tanner has gone from not being able to leave the house to competing at his third Games and qualifying for Australia's wheelchair tennis circuit.

"It would be awesome if he walks away with a medal but at the end of the day it doesn't matter because what Invictus did was bring this man out for us," she said.

"We don't need a medal for that, and he doesn't need a medal. We've got something a hell of a lot better."

Australian Associated Press