21 October 2021
Photography: RSL Active

You may remember a story we brought to you three years ago about a young ADF veteran who had his emerging Army career cut short after sustaining life changing injuries.

Through medical technology and self-determination, Rye Shawcroft is quite literally getting back on his feet. It may not be for long periods, but it’s certainly more than he once believed was possible.

Rye was left wheelchair bound aged 19, just over a year after enlisting. He faced a diagnosis of musculoskeletal and neurological lower limb injuries, which were progressive and degenerative.

“It had a massive impact, it was really detrimental and we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Rye was at war with his own body.

“I’d get to that feeling like, oh shit, nothing is going to happen, I’d be better off without any legs because they caused more issues and got in the way.”

Whilst coming to terms with the loss of his old life and Infantry career, his new life was filled with medical appointments, surgeries, rehabilitation, and a concoction of pain medications. At one stage, it seemed like he’d exhausted all of his options for a successful recovery.

"I felt like there was nothing I could do. I was going to be in the wheelchair for the rest of my life and there was going to be no improvements."

Rye Shawcroft

Rye suffered significant mental battles too.

“It’s been a massive part of my journey. For a long time I suffered from anxiety and depression, I had some of my lowest points.”

Rye Shawcroft after a flotation therapy session with RSL Active

With many unsuccessful surgeries over the years, his most successful was in 2018, just three weeks after competing in the Invictus Games. The major spinal surgery required months of recovery time.

Throughout his journey, Rye embraced opportunities that could keep him social and physical, with the desire to achieve sporting greatness giving him the goals he needed. From participating in an all expenses paid ski trip to Canada thanks to RSL Active, to being the first person in a wheelchair to compete in Tough Mudder, to becoming a Gold Medal winner in the 2019 Warrior Games (and smashing some records!), Rye appreciates the positive impact it’s had in his recovery.

"There was a slow build up of activities and events to try and get me out there and experience new things and help me realise that my disabilities didn’t have to stop me from doing the things I wanted to enjoy."

Rye Shawcroft

His involvement with RSL Active has provided him with opportunities that may have otherwise been impossible.

“I’ve done rock climbing, clay target shooting and back in 2017 wheelchair AFL.”

Rye also continues to work on maintaining his mental health, with some of the less physical RSL Active events on offer, including floatation tank sessions, mindfulness and meditation.

Rye Shawcroft playing wheelchair AFL with the RSL Active team

"It’s an amazing thing to be able to offer veterans so many activities and events…I think the RSL Active program is phenomenal and it definitely helps reach all age groups, all areas of disabilities whether it’s mental or physical."

Rye Shawcroft

The 25 year old from Carrum Downs is also applying himself to his academic studies in Civil Engineering, with two years left of his degree.

His sights are firmly set on the 2023 Invictus Games and competing in more RSL Active wheelchair AFL matches, potentially in Hobart for the Wheelchair AFL Nationals, if COVID restrictions allow.

The Pride of Australia nominee is also taking to the speaker circuit, sharing his story of determination and willingness to succeed to audiences young and old.

“I get super anxious but it pushes me and gets me out there. I force myself to do it and I find there’s massive benefits from it – not just for me standing up in public but also I find for other people as well who can hopefully get something out of my story.”

This is a young man to watch. It certainly seems that his courage is not only inspirational, but he has an outlook and attitude to aspire to.

RSL Active Canada Ski Trip
RSL Active Canada Ski Trip

Stop and take a selfie this VHW

This Veterans' Health Week, we encourage you to grab your phone and take a snap while you 'get moving' and post on your chosen social media platform. Use the hashtag #VeteransHealthWeek and don't forget to tag @rslvic in your post.

Together, let's amplify Veterans’ Health Week and support each other to get moving,

VHW will run from October 16- 24, 2021.

Take a selfie this VHW