The Invictus Games are a paralympic type sporting event that Prince Harry established for wounded, ill or injured service personnel and veterans. Although there are medals available the emphasis is on the rehabilitation journey that the athletes go through to get them to the games and beyond.
This is an interview with Team Kiwi athlete Jules Gilligan, whom I had the privilege to coach and watch her develop over the 10 months prior to the games.
QK: What is your service background and history? What are the big challenges that you have overcome to get you to this point in your career and into the games?
JG: I have worked for the RNZAF for just over 20 years and have also spent a few years in the Territorial Army. The biggest challenges I have had both personally and in my career have been managing my health since my wrist injury in 2009 and Breast Cancer in 2010. This has led me towards the games although it was a slow process to feel ready enough to be able to apply.
QK: Have you been to the games previously? What events did you compete in at the 2017 Games in Toronto?
JG: I had not previously been to the Games, but this year I competed in lifting, rowing and swimming.
QK: I’m sure you had many highlights in your time in Toronto. What was your biggest personal highlight? What was your biggest challenge whilst in Toronto?
JG: There were very many highlights, but to be able to swim in the finals after only learning to swim 10 months ago was a huge joy. The biggest challenge in Toronto for me was fatigue. It is a huge event. I also was trying to get to see as many of the team compete as possible.
QK: Whilst at the games I found that I witnessed so many inspirational moments. What did you find most inspiring about the games?
JG: For me it was watching people who faced huge challenges conquer them.
QK: I had the privilege to meet many inspiring athletes during my time in Toronto and I know the athletes made plenty of bonds with other athletes and support staff as well. Did you meet someone from outside the Kiwi team who had or was suffering from similar injuries and illness to yourself? How did this interaction affect you?
JG: I didn’t meet any others that had similar injuries, but this didn’t matter. We are all on a journey of rehabilitation and recovery, regardless of the individual road.
QK: Athletically how did you go performance wise?
JG: I didn’t achieve in some areas, but learnt a lot. I met some of my personal targets and achieved higher in others than I thought I could.
QK: Now that the games have concluded the high we all felt whilst involved with the games has dissipated. Memories of our time in Toronto are still strong. How have your results changed things for you?
JG: I have gained the strength to find an indominatable will. To find so much joy regardless of my circumstances and to focus on all the wonderful things I have in life, to live fully. I have made so many connections and feel I have gained a family that understands. I learnt that the voice that said “can’t” doesn’t exist anymore and that the person I thought I could be was no match for the one that grew out of Invictus.
QK: What are you preparing for next? Any big goals you are in a position to share?
JG: While I have just learnt to swim, I now want to improve my technique and get stronger in every area. I have also set myself the goal of swimming in open water. I am pretty scared to do this, but know from experience now that I will conquer this anyway. Little steps and small victories equate to achievement of things you didn’t expect you could do.
QK: What is a quote that keeps you motivated and inspired to achieve?
JG: My husband says this (usually before he does something dumb and dangerous) “What is the worst that could possibly happen?” Then you ignore everything and “do it anyway”.
Thanks for your service and the inspiration you have provided myself (and no doubt many other people). It’s an honour to have met you.