Learn­ing to smile again

For Lead­ing Sea­man Vanessa Broughill the chance to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia in Prince Harry’s In­vic­tus Games was the light at the end of a very dark tun­nel, she tells Juliet Rieden.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Invictus Games -

Look­ing at Vanessa Broughill to­day, with her broad smile and in­fec­tious laugh, it’s hard to be­lieve the jour­ney she’s been on. The 33-year-old mum-of-three is vi­va­cious, chatty and has a pow­er­ful in­tel­li­gence and self­knowl­edge. She comes across as strong and con dent and im­mensely proud to be in the 2018 In­vic­tus Games. But dial back three years and Vanessa was a very dif­fer­ent per­son; anx­ious, trou­bled and bro­ken on the in­side while bat­tling to present a co­her­ent, cop­ing ex­te­rior.

Vanessa has al­ways hid­den her trou­bles; she’s a xer not a quit­ter. But, in­evitably, her world came tum­bling down. “In 2015 I was di­ag­nosed with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion and even though

I have mostly worked through the de­pres­sive part, the anx­i­ety is still with me in ev­ery­thing I do and more so in the things I don’t do.”

This month Vanessa will be com­pet­ing in eight events in front of her fam­ily, friends, the whole of Aus­tralia and the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex. “I would love to see them,” she beams. “They’re like su­per­stars.” In fact, it is Vanessa who will be the su­per­star.

She’ll be swim­ming, row­ing, sprint­ing, com­pet­ing in dis­cus, shot-put and long jump. Find­ing the courage to put her­self out there has been her most chal­leng­ing bat­tle to date, but also her most re­ward­ing, and it has changed her life for­ever.

“I’m an army brat,” Vanessa tells me. “I was born in Wagga Wagga, although I didn’t live there for long. Mum and Dad split when my sis­ter was born. I went to live with Dad in coun­try Vic­to­ria and my sis­ter went to live with Mum. Then, when I was three, Mum moved to Queens­land and I didn’t see her again un­til I was seven.”

Vanessa had a dif cult time with her fa­ther’s new part­ner and by the time she was eight chose to live with her mum in Queens­land. Here she got to know her sis­ter prop­erly and soon a baby half­sis­ter joined the fam­ily. But while life was hap­pier, it was chal­leng­ing. “I was the el­dest and there was a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity very quickly,” re­calls Vanessa. “I re­mem­ber when my youngest sis­ter was born – there’s 11 years be­tween us – Mum say­ing ‘I’m re­ally tired, can you do the rst shift in the morn­ing?’ So I would get up to change my in­fant sis­ter’s nappy and get her bot­tle.”

When she left school, Vanessa signed up for an ex­er­cise sci­ence de­gree at univer­sity but quickly re­alised it wasn’t for her. “I had al­ways wanted to join the forces, my dad was in the army, my grand­fa­ther, my great-grand­fa­ther, my un­cle, so I thought, I’m just go­ing to do it.” In 2005 Vanessa be­came an Elec­tronic War­fare Op­er­a­tor in the Royal Aus­tralian Army, and then in 2009 she trans­ferred to the Navy to pur­sue a ca­reer in elec­tronic in­tel­li­gence.

Vanessa’s in­juries are phys­i­cal as well as men­tal. While she was in the army she dam­aged her shoul­der and, fol­low­ing years of in­jec­tions and phys­io­ther­apy, she nally had two sep­a­rate surg­eries. “There were days when I couldn’t even lift my arm up to do my hair it was so ex­cru­ci­at­ing.”

Baby Zachary came along in 2011 and to­day she and her hus­band, Craig, have three chil­dren – Zachary, seven, Avyanna, ve, and Hamish, four.

But the men­tal strain of mother­hood and the de­mands of her job proved too much for Vanessa.

The jour­ney back be­gan with coun­selling, med­i­ca­tion and hon­est talks with her hus­band, who had no clue she was suf­fer­ing. And then along came In­vic­tus. “I didn’t like leav­ing the house for any­thing. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in sport – es­pe­cially be­ing on the In­vic­tus Games path­way – helped me get past this,” she ex­plains. “Be­ing held ac­count­able by team­mates com­pelled me to show up. I would feel like I ac­com­plished some­thing.”

In a few weeks’ time Vanessa’s de­ter­mi­na­tion will come to a peak, and she can’t wait. “I truly be­lieve that be­ing se­lected to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia for the In­vic­tus Games is my great­est achieve­ment.” AWW

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