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.
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