Photography: Defence Images
The last five years of Lenny Redrose’s life have been a blur of "surreal” events, from sustaining a spinal cord injury and descending into a deep drug addiction, to emerging as a competitive athlete on the world’s stage.
Growing up, Lenny was a talented young athlete, and a scholarship recipient at the Victorian Institute of Sport for soccer. When he enlisted in the army in 2012, he began playing soccer in the army and found a new community of people to connect with.
“I was able to find another sporting family where I knew absolutely nobody,” he said.
“There was another group of friends there to cling onto.”
Lenny was posted to the Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera, and was deployed twice, to Queensland Flood Assist and Operation Philippines Assist.
He said the destruction he witnessed changed his perspective on much in his life.
“What you’re seeing is houses a kilometre away from where they’re meant to be,” he said.
“You’re seeing million-dollar yachts on people’s roofs, and bridges being pulled apart.
"It’s amazing how powerful mother nature is. Up until that point I’d never really seen any of it firsthand, you see it on TV but nothing with your own eyes."
As prevalent as sport has been in Lenny’s life during the good times, it’s also seen him through some of his darkest moments.
In 2016 Lenny sustained a spinal cord injury and became a T4 paraplegic. From there, he fell deep into drug abuse and addiction.
He faced his demons behind closed doors, living life as a “high functioning” addict still able to complete his day-to-day activities.
It was sport that played an enormous role in helping Lenny get his life back on track. He found wheelchair rugby, and the training and routine set him on the right path again.
“One week getting clean turned into one month getting clean then six months,” he said.
"Sport has played a massive part in not only my spinal recovery and mental recovery but also my ice addiction."
Shortly after a relapse that broke a six-month clean streak, Lenny met the 2018 Invictus Games team captain Matt Brumby, who encouraged him to apply for the games in 2020.
Lenny has been clean ever since that meeting five years ago. He has also just competed in his second Invictus Games, representing Australia in the wheelchair basketball, cycling, and wheelchair rugby events.
Lenny said his measure of success was about defying personal expectations of performance, and “breaking barriers”, even more than taking home a gold medal for his country.
“I think I would love for anyone and everyone to break their barriers,” he said.
“If they set their goals on getting 10 seconds for a 100 metre sprint, whatever that person’s barrier is, I want them to achieve or break that.”
Lenny said he has the utmost admiration and respect for his own teammates, who broke down their own personal barriers simply by being there competing.
“This is the only tournament in the world where it’s non-elites on the world stage,” he said.
“None of us are elite athletes.
“For us to go there and be on the world’s stage, it’s pretty impressive to do all of that.”
A big motivator for Lenny is creating visibility in the sporting world for people like him. He currently visits spinal cord injury patients in hospitals and knows the indelible impact he can have when he walks into a room of people wondering what comes next after their injury.
“When we see people with similar injuries, whether it be amputees, SCI (spinal cord injury), whatever it may be, when you see a person that looks like you doing it, you give the other person confidence,” he said.