14 October 2018
Two men whose New Zealand Army careers ended nearly 30 years ago when devastating accidents left each of them tetraplegics are back in the military fold, thanks to the Invictus Games.
Grant Philip was just 18 and in the Army’s Territorial Force, with plans to join the Regular Force, when he fell awkwardly from a diving pontoon at the beach on a summer’s evening. George Nepata was five years into an Army career when he was dropped from a stretcher during a training exercise in Singapore.
Their injuries not only took the use of their limbs but also the camaraderie being part of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) brings. Both say their selection for the NZDF team to compete in the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 has given them back that sense of belonging.
The Games are the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and ill active duty and former service members. This year’s event, from 20-27 October, will involve 500 competitors from 18 allied nations in 11 adaptive sports.
Mr Philip and Mr Nepata will both compete in archery, and Mr Nepata will also play wheelchair rugby.
“I haven’t been back in the military environment since my accident and it feels like being back among long-lost family again,” Mr Nepata said. “The training camps have been great and seeing other soldiers, airmen and sailors who’ve had similar accidents and overcome their challenges has been a real eye-opener and a humbling experience.”
Mr Philip said it was good to be involved with the NZDF again.
“There’s no one in the team who has an attitude – everybody is equal and everybody cheers everyone else on. It’s a really good environment to be in,” he said.
NZDF Invictus Games Contingent Commander Commodore Dave Proctor said the Games were a platform that encouraged the force’s people, past and present, to continue to challenge themselves, and it could be part of the rehabilitation journey.
“It is part of that journey from the injuries they’ve suffered back to demonstrating their value as fully representational, contributing Kiwis. They’re representing the nation, which is what all of us signed up to do,” Commodore Proctor said.
The NZDF had been involved with the Invictus Games since their inception in 2014, because it helped its people, he said.
“For some it is about the medals, it’s about winning the competition. For others it’s not. For some it’s about competing against others. For some it’s about competing with themselves. For some it’s about doing something that’s a bit different. For some it’s about being part of a team again. For all of them it’s about being part of a whanau.”
New Zealand Spinal Trust spokeswoman Debra Edmonds, whose husband Pat has been involved with previous Invictus Games, said being able to share their stories with those who genuinely understood helped people feel accepted and supported.
Her husband enjoyed the connection to his past, laughing and reminiscing with the team, she said.
“He was in his element – he was treated like a man. He also saw how many other people there were who had had journeys of their own, challenges and struggles, but who got up each day and did what they had to.
“Everyone benefits from the experience. We all need to be a part of something larger than ourselves, and this is another way to create that experience. It’s like what we do in the Spinal Trust – our network is our family, we don’t judge anyone and we are here to support everyone involved.”
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: