It took centimetres to bring an end to Emma Murfet’s career in the Australian Army, but since the accident, the former parachute rigger has found new ways to reach great heights.
Tomorrow, the Melbourne born athlete will join 26 veterans and six serving Australian Defence force members in Team Australia at the Invictus Games.
It’s an incredible achievement for the athletes, who have overcome mental and physical challenges to compete on the world stage.
On the eve of her departure, Emma spoke to RSL Victoria, about how she was feeling to finally be on her way to The Hague, in the Netherlands, after the series was postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s surreal,” she said.
"I’m just so excited and really looking forward to it."
Emma joined the Army in 2011. She originally wanted to be a medic, but the opportunity to become a parachute rigger presented itself.
“I’d never been bungee jumping or skydiving before I joined the Army, but it was always on my bucket list and I thought it sounded like an adventurous and exciting career choice,” Emma said.
A posting to the 176 Air Dispatch at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond was followed by a stint at the Defence National Distribution and Storage Centre.
“My main job was to ensure we met our quota to pack parachutes, most of the time we were packing between 10-20 parachutes every day.
“Then we were rotated to the storage section where we kept an eye on parachutes approaching ‘out of pack date’ and I also had to repair any rips or holes in parachutes. In addition to that we had to jump regularly, to ensure we kept our currency up and it also assisted with quality in our packing.”
It was during one of the practice jumps that Emma suffered a spinal injury.
"It was something so simple, I landed with my feet slightly apart, probably no more than a few centimetres, and we had it drilled into us that you always had to land with your feet together. That small mistake meant I crumbled to the ground, rather than do our roll to take off all the speed."
It took nine months before the four fractured vertebrae in the thoracic area of her spine were detected and, by then, the bones had already healed incorrectly.
Emma was medically discharged from the Army in 2014.
"When I finally got the diagnosis, my world just changed completely because all the things that I used to love and do all the time, I could do no longer."
“Since that day, I haven't had a pain-free day.
“I have a lot of appointments that I have to attend each week just to try to keep the pain as minimal as possible, so that puts extra stress on my life, and I also have three young children, who have had to make adjustments because there many things that their mum can’t do- just making a bed is quite painful.”
Sport has always been Emma’s passion. She started athletics at age five and represented her state in sport.
For a long time after the injury, she doubted her physical capabilities to perform even the most mundane tasks. Competitive sport seemed almost impossible.
All that changed when she saw the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex founded the international sporting event specifically for injured servicemen and women; the first event was held in London in 2014.
The word ‘invictus’ means unconquered. It speaks to the strength of the competitors, who refuse to let their injuries to define them.
Using the power of sport, the Games inspires recovery, supports rehabilitation and generates an understanding and respect for wounded, injured and sick veterans and servicemen and women.
At the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games 491 competitors and 1,000 family and friends attended the event. It inspired many more athletes, like Emma.
“It really inspired me, to see other people, just like me, out there giving it a go,” Emma said.
“My trainer and I set a goal to make the team for the next Games.”
She was ecstatic when she was chosen for Team Australia.
Emma will be competing in The Hague in athletics, powerlifting, indoor rowing, swimming and cycling.
In addition to the thrill of representing her country at the Invictus Games, the veteran has made incredible connections with her team mates.
"I have made some lifelong friends that have supported me, even when we are not in competitions or camps, I’ll pick up the phone and have a chat to them because they are so positive and encouraging, and we just get each other."
“We know what we have all been through and that makes it so much easier.”
Her children are also delighted to see their mother compete at an elite level. While she’s running on the track or on the bike, they are role playing what she is doing at home.
“One thing that I have learnt is to take every single opportunity that comes your way. You don’t want to regret it down the track.”
“I’ve also learned that you need to find the positive in everything, even in the worst situations, there is always something bright to focus on that can turn a situation around.”
Emma also credits the Games with giving her the confidence to emerge from the shell she has been sheltering in since the accident.
"I used to be very positive, bubbly and outgoing and over the years that disappeared, but the Games have made me realise what happiness is, all over again."
As for whether she has her heart set on a win at the Games, Emma feels like she has already won just by being picked for Team Australia.
“As long as I put in 100 per cent and I am spent at the end of my events that’s a win in itself.”
There is evidence that participating in sport at any level strengthens the health and wellbeing of wounded, injured or ill service personnel and their families.
It can inspire recovery, support rehabilitation efforts.
After the success of the Sydney Games Invictus Australia CEO Michael Hartung OAM said Australia secured an opportunity to build a world-leading program that supports veterans and serving members between and outside of the games.
“In Australia there has always been a really strong alignment between sport and service."
He said participating in sport gave people a purpose and helped create communities and connections.
Invictus Australia now works with the Australian Defence Force to help athletes and their families to attend the Games, but it also creates community opportunities for people to engage in sporting endeavours at a local level, whether its competing, coaching, volunteering or sports administration.
The Invictus Games runs from April 16-22. Veterans who are interested in supporting Team Australia can:
Follow the Invictus Games The Hague on social media