Invictus Games Summary by Nicki Fairbairn
Pre Opening Ceremony:
Friday 19 October 2018
Rowing training was held at the Quay Centre and for our training session we had an honorary coach, Eric Murray, who came in to give us some tips. (I have been scratched from this event due to injury, but was there supporting the team).
Eric was asked, “What can we do to improve our rowing?”, by one of the team. “Row faster”, was the answer from Eric Murray. Yep, that will do it.
Saturday 20 October 2018
Today was a non-event day, except for the Landrover and Jaguar challenge. Unfortunately, due to an admin error the New Zealand Team were left off the drive list and we were not able to compete. Very disappointing, since we were the first team to register.
We did have a swim session booked (unofficial) and managed to train in the competition pool, even though they had a local comp earlier in the day. There was only Megan and I there and I can honestly say, I still dislike swimming a lot. Ray did a great job and managed to get us in Lane 1, so I would not panic as much. Me and anxiety are good friends. I did manage to swim 50m (not very graciously and I think I lowered the water level in the pool quite a bit with the amount I inhaled). I really should not be swimming, but I survived and did not drown; this time.
The Opening Ceremony was close to being cancelled because of a lightening and thunder storm that came over the Harbour. That resulted in a fair amount of time bobbing around on the harbour on a boat, however there were very impressive lightening scenes though. Unfortunately, the opening ceremony was shortened and we all did not get to march on, only the Flag Bearer and their family as Placard holders.
Sunday 21 October 2018
Today’s events were cycling and sailing and both teams of contestants were away early. I had a swim training session for later in the day again and ended up staying at the Dome and watching both sailing and cycling there. I wished all the sailors the best of luck and was a little sad I was not able to take part. But we had enough sailors for two crews and they both did great but did not make it through to the second round. There was a little rumour that the Army Boat bet the Navy Boat but Navy are yet to confirm this rumour.
The cyclists did great and we are all so proud of them. For many it was their first attempt at cycling and we were all cheering them on from the Dome while waiting for my swim training with Ray.
Look who our cyclists bumped into today.
As it turned out I was the only one there and it was a one on one training session, where I worked at swimming 25m at a time with some fin drills thrown in. Thanks for Vanessa and Jackie for coming along to support me. I finished on a high note by swimming 50m non-stop.
Tell you what – swimming feels great when it is all finished.
Monday 22 October 2018
I arrived at the Indoor Rowing early this morning and was lucky enough to help secure some good seats with New Zealand friends and families. It was a fantastic morning. Mum and Larry were just blown away when they saw some of the IR1 athletes giving it their all in the 4min and 1min rows. Mark Ormrod (UK) was the winner of both events again this year and they were both awe struck at the effort and ability Mark and the other IR1 competitors showed.
I guess we just take it all for granted now, the feelings, emotions and fighting back of tears at every corner when we see the passion and effort people put in to win, or even come last in their events. Very often the last place competitor will get the biggest cheer. At times it still brings me to tears.
I was planning to go for another swim training session but was a little late getting there after the rowing. It seemed I missed the session and after talking to Ray, was excused and went to try and relax before the big swim the next day. Sleep is a rare commodity in my life at the best of times and it was not going to happen on that night.
Tuesday 23 October 2018
The big day arrived. Women’s 50m Freestyle, Heat 3, Lane 1, Nicki Fairbairn. I was initially drawn Heat 1, Lane 4, but Ray worked his magic and swapped me so I could swim in a lane next to the side. I am not the most confident of swimmers. I suffer from anxiety and are off all meds at the moment, however my anxiety goes through the roof when it comes to competitions, public speaking or the like. As you can imagine my swimming heat had my anxiety levels going through the roof. When Ray asked what he could do to help, my answer was to scratch me from the race. That was not going to happen and I would hate myself forever if I allowed it to happen.
After a very quick warm up of two 25m lengths, it was “you guys are next”. Line up here, walk along here in your lane order, sit here and get ready to go out to the starting blocks. Ray was there to help me on the blocks. Swimming was the last thing on my mind. Trying not to throw up was high on the priority list at that time.
Onto the block, crouch, tuck chin in (further), arms out; are you ready, beep. Here goes nothing.
I made it to ¾ down the pool and took a very large mouthful of water, stopped, raised my head and looked at Ray. He was running down the side of the pool yelling something at me so I thought I better start swimming again. I was the last one there, but I could hear the Canadian in the lane next to me cheering me on. Even though the end of the pool seemed to be getting further away, I finally made it. There were congratulations and hugs all around as we climbed out of the pool.
Wednesday 24 October 2018
Today the Archery range is open and we can go down and have some practice rounds on the range. I was very excited about it all and was the first competitor there, waiting for the start. The volunteers were still setting up the range, so I went to our team tent and started to set my bow up. It was good to be one of the first there, get the lay of the land, meet some officials, get the procedures down pat and just chill until I could start shooting. It was a lovely day and I was very excited to get into my Archery again.
As soon as the range opened, I set up on a target and started to shoot away to my hearts content. It was a fantastic set up and everyone was so helpful. I was very determined this time to have fun and not freak myself out. It was off to a good start. Enjoying the whole atmosphere, the mixing of people who were as passionate about Archery as I was and a fantastic way to learn a lot more.
The New Zealand Archery Team did not have a coach who had come over with us and we were a little lost with technical matters or coaching help for our novice Archers. I was talking to a Canadian sports person in the Dome and he turned out to be the Canadian Archery Coach. He agreed to come and help the New Zealand Archers, as we had no coach. We were all so grateful for any help we could get.
As it was, our coach Chris from Christchurch was on holiday in Australia. We were able to get him an Accreditation pass and came he to the Games to lend a hand with our coaching. The Australian Coach was also very quick to lend a hand and our Novice Archers were sorted.
Thanks for all the help Chris, Dave and the Aussie Coach (sorry cannot remember his name, however he had a nice dog called Dexter). It was very much appreciated. I trained in the very hot Australian sun and got a little sun burnt. but met some very nice other competitors over the day.
This evening we were competing in the swimming finals at the Aquatic Centre. Pratty [Gareth Pratt] was in three finals and the Mixed Relay, which was at 2150 hours. We arrived in time to watch all Gareth’s finals and get ourselves a little possie, pool side. We spent the evening by the pool with other competitors, shooting the breeze and watching the finals. Gareth swum great, but the competition were competitors that were in the Paralympic or Olympic Teams. Yeah-nah, little old NZ Invictus Games Team were a little out of their league here, but we all swum to the best of our ability.
With our Mixed Relay Team, we were denied our chance to swim as a team at the last minute by the Australian Officials. We did not tick the right criteria box unfortunately, so were not allowed to swim as a team, even just for fun, That was a bit of an oxymoron for me. Ray our coach, arranged for us to swim in an Unconquered Team with the Canadians. I had finished warming up and was trying to relax when this news came in. Unfortunately it triggered a major anxiety attack in me and I was not getting in that pool.
After some calming and reassuring words from Ray, Megan my Kiwi team mate and the Canadian swimmers in my Unconquered Team; I pulled myself together. Thanks Mum and Larry for coming along to help, but I needed ‘strong’ words and you would just make me worse. I saw it as letting my team mates, my parents and myself down. The Canadians did not know how bad a swimmer I was and more panic set in there. I managed to calm down enough to get on the starting block, dive in and swim my little heart out. I managed ¾ the pool with Front Crawl and Breast stroked the rest of the way. My goal was to finish the 50m and to do so better then the 1:20min I did in my heat yesterday. Mission accomplished on both accounts.
Whoop whoop, swimming finished at approximately 2230 hours for some much needed sleep.
Thursday 25 October 2018
Whoop whoop, it is Archery day. I got to the range early and set up with my number, got my target number and sussed the place out waiting for my team mates to arrive. No matter what happened today I was going to have fun, relax and enjoy myself. I was not going to stress myself out like I did last night at the swimming, or last year in Toronto. My first event was shooting against a American lady, Hannah and it went well. There was four of us on the line and we had a great time, dancing up and down the range when we went to score and retrieve our arrows. After 60 arrows, we were all through to the Quarter Finals that afternoon. I did not expect to get through but finished 6th and was playing against the 3rd place shooter in a knock out. Sad to say that was the end of my run, but I had fun and got on really well with Joslyn McKinley from Australia; who bet me.
I went to watch Joslyn shoot in her next match, then watched Poppy, one of the UK ladies. Both were successful and through to the next stage. My team mates, Koro, Ihaka and I were up to play Italy in the team’s quarter final. Yeah – nah, sorry but they had International Paralympic Champs in this team. I had promised myself not to stress out over the matches and to just enjoy myself. It was not so easy to do with this match. I did not shoot very well but still had fun. Unfortunately, we were beaten 6-0. I apologised to my team mates, but enjoyed the experience.
It was a very long day where I did not shoot a PB, but I had fun and enjoyed shooting with my fellow competitors. I broke my gear down to take home and went along to congratulate Poppy and Joslyn on their wins to the medal shoot outs. Poppy was shooting against Hannah for the Bronze medal and Joslyn was competing against Jennifer for the Gold or Silver. Poppy was surrounded by supporters and I said a quick congrats and went to find Joslyn. She was in the tent by herself having a little quiet nervous cry. I gave her a big hug and tried to calm her down by telling her that she was a winner already, no matter what colour the medal was and she was going to get a medal. Just relax and enjoy it. Take deep breaths and remember it is just like shooting at home. I promised her I would come and watch her in the final the next day and all would be fine. I finished by giving her a reassuring hug.
Friday 26 October 2018
This was the final day of competition and though I was not competing I was off to show my support to the NZ Wheelchair Basketball team and the Archery finals next door. I arrived at the Basketball early and helped with the warm up with Willy. We were ball chasers. I also acquired another wheelchair as an equipment/towel carrier and pushed it out to the court with the team. The first game saw the Kiwi’s take on the Canadians. It was a hard-fought game and we won. I was sitting court side with the team as I was co-wheel changer and player elevator when they flipped with Willy. I was also towel and water girl when there was breaks or substitutions and one of the loudest supporters.
After the first game was finished there was a break till later that afternoon for our Wheelchair Basketball, so I went next door to support Joslyn at the Archery finals. I waved my pass and dropped my bag at the now empty New Zealand tent. Joslyn was warming up on the practice targets right in front of the tent by herself. I wandered over and gave her a hug of support, talked to calm her nerves, got the umbrella out to give her shade between ends, got her cold water and gave her words of reassurance. The poor girl was a nervous wreck. I know how she felt, as I had been a basket case at the Bronze Medal final last year. So much so that I had not appreciated or enjoyed the moment. I did not want the same thing to happen to Joslyn, as this is definitely something you want to remember.
One of her other team mates came over and we walked over to the assembly point for the Silver/Gold medal shoot out. I wished Joslyn a final good luck, told her to have fun and remember no matter what she is a winner already. The UK competitor was not very nice or polite when we wished her luck, but we will put it down to nerves. I was positioned at the side of the range with the Australian Team and was eye to eye with Joslyn, just telling her to breath, relax and centre herself. It went to three rounds and the ladies were shooting arrow for arrow. In the end Jenifer (UK) won the final round, on the final arrow by one point. I was disappointed for Joslyn, but also so happy as it was so close. She had held her own and done herself and her team proud. I waited till all her team had given Joslyn their congratulations and gave her my congrats and a big hug. I stayed for the presentation of the medals, giving a big cheer as they went past the New Zealand tent before running off to Wheelchair Basketball again.
Back to the Archery to watch the team finals, Italy playing Romania. It was a good game and once again they were shooting arrow for arrow, but Italy was just beating them in the rounds. The final score was a little deceptive to how close the matches really were. Italy won the Gold, Romania the Silver and UK the Bronze. Archery was now over for the competition and I had enjoyed it so much, made some new friends and grown so much in my ability to control my nerves and anxiety.
Saturday 27 October 2018
I went to watch the Wheelchair Basketball and was helping out the back as a ball chaser, towel and water girl for our hard-working team. This some times resulted in my being courtside or relegated to the stands as a spectator. Either way I cheered the team on very loudly. We may not have been in the medal play offs, but the team played with heart and gave it their all. Proud to be a Kiwi.
The Closing Ceremony was well planned out. It was a pleasure to be involved with it. There was a bit of a wait to get into the arena, but we made it to our seats, via getting our competitors medal (which I almost missed, as I was too busy hugging the Canadians and talking to them, to worry about the medal – oops).
It was great to see that the ceremony did not go on for too long and the definite highlight was when George got the award for the ‘Exceptional Performance Award’. All the Kiwi’s were jumping for joy, cheering and going crazy. Impromptu Haka was called for and we all gave it our all. So proud to be a Kiwi that day.
Sunday 28 October 2018
The flight home was a very co-ordinated operation. All bags were searched and loaded. All customs were carried out on the bus before we were loaded on the back steps of the RNZAF Boeing, while we waited for our ‘hitch-hikers’. There was a bit of a wait for them and all their hanger-on’s, but finally they arrived. Prince Harry and Megan were soon forgiven for the wait as they made their way back to speak to the team as soon as they boarded the plane. Prince Harry was very softly spoken and it was hard to hear what he was saying, but it was so nice they both came to speak to us as soon as they boarded the plane. Prince Harry did insist that as soon as we landed in Wellington we would get a team picture together. That was going to be exciting.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and we just settled down for the ride. There was a lot of flight staff on board, as was the higher-ranking military staff and they took up the back and business class section of the plane. The team and support staff took up the middle wing section and there were a few empty seats to spread out on after take-off.
On arrival to Wellington there was a few public waiting for a glimpse of Prince Harry and Megan standing at the boundary fence. There was media also lined up for the good shots and we were rushed off for our Prince Harry and Megan photo shot. After a bit of a wait and joking around the Royal couple arrived. I could not believe my luck when Harry jumped in-between me and our Megan, before pulling his Megan in beside me. I did not get a chance to say anything to Megan as there was a shuffle of people in line and Prince Harry was rearranging the line so no one missed out.
I tried an impromptu, ‘thank you’ to Prince Harry, “for saving so many of us”. Unfortunately my anxiety took over and I had a little freak out. He got the general gist of what I was trying to say and Megan did give a sympathetic ‘awe’, to my obvious distress. When am I going to learn that I am not the best at coping in those sorts of situations, lol.
It was a great way to finish the trip. Thanks for the experience Prince Harry, Duchess Megan, all my fellow team mates, support staff, friends and family, volunteers and the Australian people.
Bring on The Hague in The Netherlands. All ex and current service personal who fit into the categorisation of the Games should apply and give it a go.
– Nicki Fairbairn
Nicki Fairbairn has served in both the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal New Zealand Navy. She is competing at her second Invictus Games having competed at Toronto in 2017, where after the swimming she made Coach Ray promise to help her compete in the swimming again having overcome her fears to participate in the 4x 50m mixed relay.