Seven years ago, British Royal Air Force nurse Sadie Melling hung for an hour in a tree waiting to be rescued after a skydive went terribly wrong; her legs broken and her dream of deploying for her country in shatters.
High wind had blown the experienced parachutist off course during a qualifying jump in Spain; she spun, collided with a six-metre high fence and landed in a tree.
Sunday on Sydney Harbour, that wind, which blew away her dreams of serving internationally, became her friend in her debut outing in sailing at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover.
With parents Pamela and Kevin cheering her on, the 33-year-old from London, competed in the Elliot 7 keel boat with skipper Poppy Pawsey, crew Jon Shepard and Andrew Taylor in the inaugural Invictus Games sailing competition.
The gold medal was won by the Australian team of Robert Saunders, Paul Langley, Greg McGrath and Marcus Wilson ahead of Denmark and the Netherlands.
For Melling, whose team put in their best-ever performance, the event marked a milestone in her recovery which included three months in a wheelchair and more than six months in rehabilitation learning to walk again.
The Invictus Games are focused on using sport as a power to inspire and support recovery for service men and women from life changing injury – and she says she is testimony to this. Melling will also compete in swimming this week.
“I lost myself after my accident and here I am now racing in Sydney Harbour,” she said.
“I was nervous sailing at first because of the wind – it was because of wind I had my accident and now look at me, I’m looking for the wind when I sail!
“We raced our best race today. We couldn’t have done any better. We did everything we could to come together – overcome our own inhibitions.”
Father Kevin, who watched on from a yacht skippered by one of many in the Sydney yachting community who donated their boats to host the Invictus Family and Friends, was overcome with pride.
“It’s brilliant seeing her achieve and overcome her fears,” he said.
“There are times when we thought we might lose her or that she would be paralysed after the accident…Invictus brought her out of the darkness.
“Her accident really set her career back, she wasn’t able to be deployed. Sport has been a way for her to get over this. She always has a big smile on her face; she’s such an inspiration.”
Also sailing for the UK was army veteran Spencer Bull, who finished fourth behind Frenchman Cyrille Chahbourne and Australians Peter Arbuckle and David Bretherton, in the Hansa 303 individual event.
For him, it wasn’t about winning medals, more about competing in front of his three teenage sons: Tom (12), AJ (13) and Charlie (16) after a 29-year military career and being medically discharged with Multiple Sclerosis.
“I’ve been unable to do anything with my kids sports wise,” he said after completing the four-race series which skirted the Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove.
“The most exciting thing is to have my family here – to show my kids despite a disability you can get on with your life.”
Invictus Games Sydney 2018