Photography: James McPherson
Nine Victorian Invictus Games competitors and officials have been awarded one of the country’s highest sporting honours.
It comes after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II amended the eligibility requirements for the Australian Sporting Medal in 2019. The amendment paved the way for the medal to be awarded to members of Australian teams who participate in eligible international multi-sport events, starting with Australia’s team at Sydney’s Invictus Games in 2018.
The Invictus Games is an international, adaptive multi-sports competition for current and former serving military personnel who have been wounded, injured or become ill during their military service.
The Australian Sports Medal recognises the significant sporting achievement of Australians.
Medal recipient Matthew Blunt competed in archery and wheelchair rugby, for which Australia took home the gold.
"When I got the email [about being awarded the Australian Sports Medal], I was shocked. I was blown away. And then the more I thought about it, the more I realised how awesome it was. I’m stoked."
The physical and mental benefits of training and competition for events like the Invictus Games are invaluable to the individual, their family and friends, as medal recipient Matthew knows only too well.
He says when his Invictus journey began, he was still struggling with the aftermath of his 23 years of service and the effects on his mental health and personal life.
But he says it was one of the best things he’s ever done and it gave him renewed purpose.
"It got me out of a giant hole…I’ve always been really sporty, so it got me back into sports and got me going again."
"It made me realise that even though I’ve got spinal injuries and what not, I can still play sport and not just down at the park, but high level sport like I used to," Matthew said.
Matthew joined the Artillery Corps of the Australian Army Reserves in 1994 and transferred to full-time service in 1998, where he served in the Catering and Transport Corps.
He deployed to Timor Leste in 1999 and Malaysia in 2005 and medically discharged in 2016.
Another three Victorian competitors were awarded the medal, including Samual Maraldo, Able Seaman Daniel Marsh and Rye Shawcroft.
The Australian Sports Medal recognises not only the efforts of competitors, but a range of Australians, including coaches, sport scientists, office holders and those who maintained sporting facilities and services.
Medal recipient Andrea McMahon’s role throughout the Games and in the months leading into the Games was as the Visits and Protocol Officer.
“It was organising all of the senior leadership group within the Defence Force, so Navy, Army, Air Force, organising all the senior people for attendance at the games themselves and attendance at all the myriad of different functions that went with that, so the opening and closing ceremony…it was great fun and I really enjoyed the role.”
She says she was in awe of the human spirit she witnessed at the Games.
"It was just hugely inspiring and hugely inspiring watching fellow humans overcome something that really is significant in their life and has significantly affected their life."
Andrea joined the Australian Army in 1983 as a musician, filling a variety of roles in that field over 38 years.
It culminated with her appointment as the Commanding Officer of the Australian Army Band.
Andrea left full time service in 2017 and transitioned to the Army Reserves.
She continues to serve as the Formation Welfare Officer at the Defence Command and Support Training Centre.
Andrea was one of five Victoria support staff awarded the medal.
Among the others to be recognised was a strength and conditioning coach and a team psychologist.
Chef de Mission for the 2018 Games, and now RSL National Chief Executive Officer, Brigadier Phil Winter says it’s wonderful to see these dedicated men and women recognised in this way.
He also thanked the RSL for its significant contribution towards some of the veterans, allowing them to experience the Games and the power of sport.
"Funding uniforms, funding meals, funding the transport of many veterans. That sometimes goes unnoticed, but we the Team and community know how much RSL Victoria put into this team."
RSL Victoria President, Doctor Robert Webster OAM, congratulated the recipients.
"To be part of contributing to the betterment of those who sacrificed so much to serve our nation and help to facilitate their health and wellbeing is what we pride ourselves on at the RSL."