Joyous Tears Define Games Experience For Team Denmark’s Aussie Olympian Coach

Shortly after Denmark’s Team for Invictus Games Sydney 2018 held its first camp, Australian Olympic swimmer Martin Roberts received a message that moved him to tears and outlined why his work with the Danish squad was so valuable.

Roberts, who competed at the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, had earlier been invited to speak with officials to discuss strategy and support for Denmark’s campaign and he walked out of the meeting as the Danish Team’s swimming coach.

The role meant Roberts would help prepare competitors for the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 swimming program, on 23 and 24 October, and get to know some team members’ personal stories and the issues they were confronting.

“Finding out about each veteran’s history and what they’ve experienced has been a great part of the journey,” said Roberts, whose wife Mary Ellen Miller is Australia’s Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland, based in Copenhagen.

“In Denmark we are working primarily with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with our veterans and understanding the previously hidden aspects around this mental illness and seeing how it impacts people over a long time. This helps the coaches work out the best way to approach their development through sport.”

The best stories, Roberts said, were those in which he could see “change and growth in how the veterans are managing their lives”.

“They are all at different stages, but sports like swimming have challenged them and put them into a place where they can think about things other than PTSD,” he said.

“This ‘mental break’, combined with physical demands, puts them in a place of feeling like they are capable of dealing better with life’s challenges. I received a message from the family of one veteran after our first camp, thanking us for exhausting and challenging him – telling us that he’d arrived home happy, tired and very much like his old self. I cried when I heard this.”

The moment crystallised for Roberts the difference between participation in the Invictus Games and his history as an elite sportsperson.

“The main difference is the focus on rehabilitation and support, rather than sporting excellence,” he said.

“Sport is just the tool we use to assist personal growth. I really like the Invictus Games approach.

“For our veterans, we will look closely at how they handle themselves and how they have used their preparation to challenge themselves and grow a greater sense of self determination and self-management.”

That “platform for change”, as Roberts described it, should involve “accepting and using the opportunity for personal growth” and hopefully result in long-lasting benefits.

“There are personal goals that all of us have and these are the ones that stick long after the Games are over. In our team, we like to think that getting to the Invictus Games is really the starting line. It’s what you do after that really matters.”

Roberts’ contribution to the Danish Team has been appreciated by the competitors, not least some local information he offered in a presentation he gave about Australia at the team’s most recent camp.

“Once I got them all past worrying about snakes, spiders and sharks, they couldn’t wait to get there,” he said.

“I attended and worked at the Sydney Olympics, so every time we have an event like this it’s part of a fantastic memory and being proud of how well we can do things together.

“Australians have so much to be proud of and it’s great to have these events as a recognition and showcase of our land and people.”

Both sessions of swimming at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre are sold out meaning the atmosphere will be electric for all competitors and spectators.

There are still tickets available for archery, athletics, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, wheelchair tennis, the pool play sessions of wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby, and the closing ceremony. Get in quick and don’t miss the opportunity to be part of this special event. Buy tickets here>>>  

David Sygall
Invictus Games Sydney 2018