Training for, and competing in, the Invictus Games in Toronto this year has helped local veteran, Jason McNulty, take his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery a step further. Returning home with a bronze medal for Cycling, this East Timor Army Veteran hopes to inspire other ex-servicemen to improve their mental health through sport.
After his first tour in Bouganville at the age of twenty-two, Jason completed three tours in East Timor, officially being discharged in 2007. He subsequently joined Ex-services organisation, Mates4Mates, where he was inspired to set Invictus as a goal to help with his PTSD recovery.
“I had a mate who went last year to Invictus in Orlando and he inspired me to go this year,” said Jason. “I had already started my rehabilitation, and wanted to take it a step further as Invictus is considered the pinnacle of recovery.
“The problem with PTSD is that you don’t recover from it. It’s not an illness that you can fix. You need to learn how to deal with it, and deal with day–to-day issues. By doing physical activity, your brain tends to work a little clearer, so I started cycling, and I was pretty good at it, so I put in for Invictus.”
Winning a bronze medal in the Cycling Time Trial event, coming ninth in the Cycling Criterium (where he helped lead out for a team mate who got fourth), getting ninth in the Indoor Rowing, and achieving personal bests in all categories, Jason says that whilst he is pleased with his results, he didn’t do it just for himself.
“My intention was not to go out and beat all these guys – I just went out there to try and be the best that I can be. Just being at Invictus is amazing – everyone supports each other 100 per cent. We try not to take things too seriously because of the places we’ve been through on our recovery. There’s more to life than medals.”
Jason also attributes joining a gym and his cycle club in helping him along his road to physical and mental rehabilitation. “Mentally, the main thing was focus. As someone with PTSD, it’s difficult to mentally prepare too much because one day is different to the next, so I just tried to stay focussed and took each day as it came.
“Physically, I trained a lot. At the end of last year, I joined the Moreton Bay Cycling Club who were encouraging and pushed me along. I cycled about 16 hours a week (about 400kms) all over the North Brisbane region. I was also a member of Healthworks gym in Bluewater Square. In fact, the day I got TPI (total and permanent incapacitation) in 2013, I walked in there 130 kilos heavy… and haven’t looked back. It helps with your recovery when you’ve got good people around you.”
The Redcliffe RSL, Banyo RSL and the Military Brotherhood Motorcycle Club were also amongst some of the key community organisations to support Jason’s dream and ultimate medal win. The funds raised by them enabled him to not only train and get to Canada and compete, but to have a bike to compete with.
With improved recovery and a hope to inspire other veterans to better themselves the motivation for many Invictus competitors, Prince Harry appears to have touched the hearts of our local service men and women, including Jason who has met him on a number of occasions.
“I tend to be in a little bit of awe of Prince Harry. He’s a fantastic person – he’s in a place of power and he uses that prestige in the best way I’ve ever seen. He’s been in a war zone like we have, and he’s seen what we’ve seen, and he gets it. He’s a veteran himself, and what he has chosen to do is help veterans recover because he’s seen it, been part of it, and understands it.”
With a lot of Jason’s mates still going through rehabilitation or only just starting it, Jason hopes his Invictus journey will help them see the possibilities to a better life. “I’ve now seen it personally with dozens of veterans. Getting out there physically can help you mentally. You won’t cure PTSD, you’ll always have it, but physical activity helps you to focus on the most important things. You’re still not going to be perfect, I’m never going to claim that, but it certainly makes things a lot better. If you sit at home, hide away, or drink too much, you’re certainly not going to be in the best place for your recovery.”
Jason encourages any ex-serviceman or woman interested in Invictus to approach their local RSL, Mates4Mates, or someone in their area that has been a past participant, and get training. “Once you do that, you’ll start to improve mentally because you are improving physically and socially. That’s the key – the fitness and regimen improves the mental and the social side of your recovery.”
Now that Toronto has finished, Jason hopes at possibly doing the Nationals in the Cycling Criterium and Time Trials, and hopefully after that, Invictus 2018 in Sydney. “Like Toronto, I’ll just try to go out there and be the best that I can be. And if I get a medal in the process, then great, but if I don’t, then I’ve still been the best that I can be - and that’s what it’s all about.”