For Southlander and New Zealand Army Sergeant Kelly Whittle has been given the opportunity of a lifetime – to co-captain the New Zealand Defence Force Invictus Games team in Sydney this month.
Sgt Whittle, formerly of Lumsden, had previously competed at the games in 2014, where she won two silver medals in shot put and discus, and in 2016 where she won a bronze in shot put.
She was overwhelmed when she was asked by the team’s management if would co-captain this year’s side with 2016 50m breaststroke bronze medallist Sergeant Gareth Pratt, of Whanganui.
“I actually didn’t think I was good enough to be captain, but it’s so exciting – I’m super proud to be fronting this team. I’m stoked,” Sgt Whittle said.
The Invictus Games were created by Prince Harry in 2014 to use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate understanding and respect for wounded, injured and ill active service members and former members.
The 2018 games will involve 18 nations competing in 11 different adaptive sports.
After serving in the army for more than 16 years, Sgt Whittle has received hip and shoulder injuries and developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her deployment in Afghanistan and working in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes.
She credits the Invictus Games and physical activity for helping her move forward with her life.
“The PTSD has been the main issue with me; sometimes I have quite hard days, but once I get on a bike and just get some fresh air it does wonders for my mental health and helps put me back into a better frame of mind,” she said.
Sgt Whittle would compete in shot put, discus, cycling, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball at this year’s games; however, she was not focusing on making the podium.
“It’s not about medals this time around. The competition is quite different this year – I think I’m going to have to put in a huge effort to get near that podium.
“It’s [more] about seeing the newer members of the team when they walk into that stadium and hear people actually clapping for them – it’s memories like that which are life-changing.”
The team of 24 athletes and 10 support staff are heading across the ditch later this month.
Sgt Whittle said the team could not perform without its support staff.
“Some of the stuff they have done for us is just amazing, we receive no funding so they go on the line for us getting sponsorship deals, [and] making sure we’re in the public eye – they’re just so great, and we receive great support from the New Zealand Defence Force as well.”
She trained about three days a week at present for the games.
“I’ve slowed down a bit because I was doing too much. These old bones were getting a bit tired.”
Sgt Whittle left Gore High School in year 12 and went on to work at a rest-home for six months.
“I became bored of school and then I got bored of being at the rest-home too – I just didn’t have much direction,” she said.
She was scrolling online when she found the army site and entered it to “see what happened”.
She has been in the New Zealand Army ever since.
“It’s taught me resilience and self-discipline – I don’t take anything for granted any more, it’s very different once you’ve experienced it.”‘
Sgt Whittle credits the Invictus Games and exercise for pulling her from some dark places she had experienced in her lifetime, and encouraged others to get involved in physical activity.
“Exercise has helped me so much – I’d encourage anybody to get involved in sport, even go for a walk, [and get some] fresh air outside. It helps the mind and will help bring yourself back into the moment.”