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Invictus Games: Unconquered

The Invictus Games is an international, adaptive multi-sports competition for current and former military personnel who have been wounded or injured or have become ill during their military service. At the 2018 Invictus Games, held in Sydney, 72 current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) competed in 11 sports, including swimming, rugby, cycling and basketball.

Among the competitors at the 2018 Invictus Games was former serving ADF member Brendan Harman. At the 2018 games Brendan had the unique opportunity to represent Australia as captain of the Australian wheelchair basketball team. Brendan applied for the Invictus Games to prove to himself that he could still compete and achieve his goals while playing the sport he loves.

Brendan joined the Army in 2009 and graduated as an Artillery Lieutenant from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 2010. He spent most of his military career working with 16th Air Land Regiment in Woodside, South Australia, and was deployed to Afghanistan.

Brendan was medically discharged in 2016 after having spinal fusion surgery. His rehabilitation journey following the surgery required him to face many challenges—not only those facing other members when transitioning from the ADF but also those arising from his physical and mental injuries.

‘Transitioning out of the Army—well, out of the military in general—is a pretty hard process. For someone transitioning with physical and, for me, mental injuries as well is really, really hard. I really struggled with it.’

Brendan was able to gain access to rehabilitation services through his rehabilitation company, Helping Heroes, in South Australia. DVA also gave Brendan access to a variety of other physical rehabilitation program activities, including pilates, hydrotherapy and mindfulness.

But, for Brendan, the mental rehabilitation was his greatest challenge: ‘The biggest issue that veterans have is that we block everything out. We don’t talk about things. We go through our whole career where we are taught to push things down, because you need to be always ready to go at a moment’s notice.’

After he was discharged, Brendan began to suffer from depression and anxiety. It became so burdensome that in 2017 he nearly took his own life. ‘I was fortunate enough that through a number of different things, both my mindset and things I’ve learned through my rehabilitation, I was able to keep myself from doing that—taking my life.’

Brendan credits his wife as a vital source of support during his rehabilitation. He says that sport also played a huge part in getting him back on track. ‘Sport, specifically wheelchair basketball, has been my saviour. The whole thing of being in the military is that you’re part of a team and you’re part of a team environment where you feel like you contribute. And you can rely on the people around you. And team sports, especially for me, have been huge.’

For Brendan, competing in the Invictus Games was a great opportunity to inspire others and further his own rehabilitation.

‘Invictus Games was a really good experience. There were a few moments that really wowed me, and I guess gave you tingles and gave you those good feelings. But being able to captain the wheelchair basketball side was really special for me. Rolling on the court and having a packed stadium just cheering for you was really great.

‘I think the biggest thing for me was actually my dad telling me that he was watching the live footage and he was in tears watching me come on. That was a really big thing for me, and my family was great as well. My wife was there, my mum was there—having them on the sidelines was important as well.

‘If you’d have looked at me 18 months ago you’d have said there’s no way I could possibly be doing what I’m doing now. And half of that is down to getting back and being part of a team sport environment.’

The next Invictus Games will be held in The Hague, The Netherlands, in 2020. We look forward to seeing Brendan and other Australian competitors inspire others who are recovering from injury and illness and engender wider respect for those who serve their country.

Invictus games participant Brendan Hardman in action during a volleyball match.
Australian Invictus Games 2018 competitor Brendan Hardman prepares to strike the ball during a sitting volleyball match against Poland as part of the Games at Sydney Olympic Park, Australia. © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence