25 October 2018
The Australian wheelchair rugby team put aside trans-Tasman rivalry to give New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) team member George Nepata a moment he’ll never forget when they met at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.
Mr Nepata, who was left a tetraplegic when he was dropped from a stretcher during a training exercise in Singapore nearly 30 years ago, said he got the ball and suddenly players from both sides were pushing him towards the line.
“That’s the Anzac brotherhood and the Invictus spirit,” he said. “It was a humbling experience and I’ll never forget it. I thank the Aussie guys and our guys for making that a special moment for me.”
The Invictus Games are the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and ill current and former servicemen and women. This year’s event, from 20-27 October, involves 500 competitors from 18 allied nations in 11 different adaptive sports. The NZDF has a team of 24 at the Games.
Australian wheelchair rugby team member Jeff Wright, who was left a paraplegic after a motorbike crash, said his team respected Mr Nepata for getting out and giving it a go.
“We’re respectful of his condition. It’s hard to get out and he’s giving it a red-hot crack and you can only take your hat off to him,” he said.
The New Zealand team brought the packed hall to a standstill with their Invictus haka before the game, and Mr Nepata said the atmosphere was amazing.
“We keep it (the Invictus haka) aside just for the Australian team and the Australian people. We were in a spearhead formation, we were loud and proud and the haka was just tremendous,” he said.
“The Aussie team accepted the challenge and it was a great atmosphere.”
The Australians won the game convincingly but their assistance to Mr Nepata was yet another example of the Games not being just about winning. Another example was the Australian archery coach, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Lane, stepping in during training this week to help the New Zealand team.
Lieutenant Colonel Lane summed up the spirit of the Games when he said it didn’t matter where they were from, service people were all brothers and sisters.
“Aussies and Kiwis, we might be rivals but we’re like cousins – cousins are rivals too but we still back each other when it starts hitting the fan,” he said.
NZDF team member Major Kiely Pepper was one of those Lieutenant Colonel Lane helped and said his actions showed the Games truly weren’t just about medals.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, people will help and that’s the spirit of Invictus – helping each other,” she said.
The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 are presented by Jaguar Land Rover. The NZDF team is sponsored by Auckland RSA, Christchurch Memorial RSA, Fulton Hogan, Jaguar Land Rover and Direct Sport.
Throughout the Games the team’s journey can be followed on: