Finding a sense of purpose at the Invictus Games

As part of Deloitte’s founding partnership with Invictus Games Sydney 2018, Former Invictus Games competitor and Australian Army Lance Corporal Craig Hancock addressed all Deloitte employees in March 2018. Craig was discharged from the Australian Army in 2015 after a battle to treat a serious back injury.

He told us about struggling to regain a sense of purpose after his dream of being a soldier ended, and how his participation in the Invictus Games helped him to regain this, and so much more,

We were lucky enough to have a more in-depth chat with Craig just before his address:

Tell us about your time in the Defence force. How did your back injury happen and lead to your discharge from the Army?

It was my childhood ambition to become a soldier, so as soon as I was old enough I enlisted into the Australian Army as an armoured vehicle crewman. I was posted to the 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment in Townsville and the 1st Armoured Regiment in Darwin. In 2006, I was deployed to the Solomon Islands in a peacekeeping role. In 2008, I was deployed for the first time to Afghanistan and I ended up doing three tours – my last tour was in 2011.

In 2008, on my first tour in Afghanistan, I was involved in a roadside bomb attack which gave me a back injury but I supressed it for years by self-medicating. I didn’t want to stop serving and leave my mates. I continued to self-medicate until I returned from my last deployment in 2012, went for a medical and tested positive to latent tuberculosis. This put me out of action for some time but it was a good opportunity to finally address my back. I found out it was much worse than I thought. This was the beginning of the end of my military career. I was put into rehab at the Soldier Recovery Centre in Darwin and eventually I discharged in 2015.

What were some of the biggest challenges for you after sustaining your injury?

I knew the injury wasn’t good – I was dealing with constant pain – but I self-medicated to my own detriment. It was an alpha male-type reaction, because I didn’t want to leave my mates. One of the biggest challenges was accepting that I have to sit back, not contribute anymore and not deploy with them. It was hard as the decision on my future in the Army was taken out of my hands and didn’t end on my own terms. But I know that I’m in a much better position than many that come back, so I’m not that hard done by.

After discharging, I had to find a new purpose and centre of gravity in life. While serving, I sacrificed a lot of family time – the Army was my first priority. At the time, I didn’t realise my relationship with my family was eroding so much until it was almost too late. My new purpose has become creating a life outside of the Army and all that entails, including spending time with my family (my wife, two daughters and my son).

What role did the Invictus Games play in your recovery (physical, emotional and mental)?

At the end of the day, the Army is about capability and I wasn’t able to provide that capability anymore due to the nature of my injuries. So many people told me I wasn’t a soldier anymore, and I couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do many of the things the Army requires again…It was a barrage of ‘can’ts’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ and road blocks…

When the opportunity to compete in the inaugural Invictus Games in London in 2014 came about, I ticked the box for almost every sport or activity – many were ones I was told I couldn’t do. I ended up competing in London in indoor rowing, archery, sitting volleyball and track. Within indoor rowing, I won gold in the 4-minute endurance race and I won silver in the 1-minute sprint. I also competed in indoor rowing and powerlifting in the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.

The whole experience was a chance to prove not just to myself but everyone else that I ‘can’ – that I’m injured but I’m still capable. It’s also created the opportunity for me to help, encourage and motivate others. When I meet someone who is struggling physically or mentally, I tell them “you’re more capable than what you think and others think you are”. If I’ve managed to come from this point, why can’t you?

It’s quite easy to fall into a very dark place but the Invictus Games provide a focal point to work towards. It was a humbling experience being around the other competitors because it gives you some perspective. You can be consumed by self-pity but others have gone through things that I can’t ever comprehend. To see them absolutely dominate in their sport and be so positive, you can’t come away from that environment and not be inspired and humbled.

How did the Invictus Games help you repair your relationship with your family?

The Invictus Games are not just about the individuals, they also recognises the role families and friends play for service personnel. Families carry a lot of the burden unnecessarily and sacrifice just as much or more. They’re riding the roller coaster too – when we’re deployed, sent home, the reintegration into normal life, the recovery from injuries. It’s a continuous, rough cycle.

For me, participation in the Invictus Games basically saved my marriage. Throughout my entire military career, my wife and others were always on the outer. But the Invictus Games are set up to be inclusive and I was able to take my wife to London. For the first time, she saw me in that environment and was able to make sense of my behaviour. She was able to network with the other spouses and it answered questions that she didn’t really know how to ask. It provided a common line to re-establish communication and rebuild the foundations of our relationship.

What do you enjoy about the sports you participated in?

Rowing was outside of the norm for me – all I knew was rugby until I was hurt. I think that’s where the challenge lies, to take on things that are a bit abnormal. It turns out rowing is actually pretty good for me if I do it properly – both physically and mentally. When I’m on the water, I can’t not think about the perfect stroke because as soon as my mind starts wandering, I could ‘catch a crab’ (when the blade gets caught) and end up in the water or my back will lock up. It has brought some routine into my life. Outside the Army you ask yourself, “Why do I need to keep fit?” Well, keeping fit physically helps with my injuries, but also helps with my mind.

The Invictus Games have a unique fighting spirit and uses empowering language to address injuries. For example, Invictus is Latin for ‘unconquered’. What impact do you think this has on the competitors and how the public addresses visible and invisible injuries?

I think the Invictus Games challenges stereotypes. There is the perception, and the reality. For those with visible injuries people generally make assumptions about what they can or can’t do, without actually witnessing it. To be honest, most able-bodied people would be smoked by half of them!

The Invictus Games also plays a massive part in raising awareness of mental health and invisible injuries. People perceive someone with an invisible injury as a ‘loose unit’ or some other uninformed conclusion. However, the reality is they’re very capable, can be very reliable and can have a fantastic work ethic. The Invictus Games showcases that someone may be hurting mentally, but they’ve shown resilience and dedication to becoming proficient in a sport that they’ve probably never done before. They’ve maintained a routine and they’ve come out the other end of a high-stress situation and performed at a high level.

In a very public way, Invictus Games sparks a conversation, destroys stereotypes and showcases that for people with injuries and illnesses, it’s about what you can do rather than what you can’t. You’re not broken and you’re not defined by your injuries.

Watch Craig’s story below.

Deloitte are incredibly proud to be a Founding Partner of the fourth Invictus Games, taking place in Sydney from 20-27 October 2018. For more stories and details visit the Invictus Games webpage. 


Want to stay up-to-date?

Stay on trend and in the know when you sign up for our latest content

Subscribe