When Rachel Kerrigan started training in the hopes of representing Australia in the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, her weights were made from broomsticks and buckets. Today, she has triumphed over illness, rebuilt her self-belief, and found where she belongs.
Learning to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to get to a point that I am thriving again is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The Invictus Games gave me that. They taught me that it is never too late to build the future I want. They gave me the self-belief to realise that, no matter how hard life has been, I have the physical and mental strength to succeed.
When I look back at how far I have come, I am incredibly grateful.
I would not be here today were it not for the Invictus Games.
My illness was triggered by a deployment to Afghanistan with the Royal Australian Air Force. After 10 years of service, I was medically discharged in 2007, and my health spiralled after that.
By 2010, I was in the depths of PTSD and chronic depressive disorder, resulting in a stress-induced stroke. In the years that followed, I went through periods of homelessness and going without food to ensure my daughter had enough. I was heavily medicated and too anxious to go outside. I lost my sense of self-worth and was turned down for more than 300 unskilled jobs despite being a qualified engineer.
My daughter, Kiara, who was in primary school at the time, looked after me. She helped me out of bed each day, ensured I took my medication, and made my medical appointments.
She saw in me what I could not see myself – always supporting, always believing, always looking to a brighter future. So, when she suggested I apply for the Invictus Games, I knew I had to do it for her.
We made makeshift weights from broomsticks and buckets and my journey of recovery through sport started. I reduced my medication, lost 60kg (132lbs) and learnt to trust myself and others again. I was accepted into the Australian team for the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida and represented my country in powerlifting and indoor rowing.
The Invictus Games kickstarted a journey of discovery and opportunity for me. With Kiara’s support, I was pushing my limits and learning what I was really capable of.
I went on to compete at a national level in powerlifting, placing third in the Australian Powerlifting National Championships in my weight category in July and then again in November in the 2017 Australian Masters Games. In 2019, I was selected in National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball League and played a year with the Sydney University Flames. I was able to coach and mentor others as an Ambassador for the 2018 and 2020 Invictus Games, and one of my proudest moments is seeing a competitor I supported achieve silver medals in shotput and powerlifting, knowing that he was on a positive path to recovery.
I also secured my dream job as an engineering capability manager at Boeing Defence Australia. I went from thinking I could never work full time again to being financially independent, doing the work I love and leading a great team. I feel a sense of unity by being back in a defence environment and able to serve my country in a different way.
I’m also part of Boeing’s veteran support network and am proud of Boeing’s sponsorship of the 2023 Invictus Games in Düsseldorf. It’s meaningful to work for an employer who will give other veterans the opportunity to experience what I experienced and it’s hard to put into words how much it means to be given an opportunity that changes your life. I know that the Invictus Games will give other people like me the chance to find out they are more powerful than what they are told. To inspire hope and give them the courage to dream again.
My hope is that I can help others with my story.
PTSD never goes away. I still deal with it every day, but it doesn’t define who I am any more. I lead an amazing life beyond my imagination and am stronger because of everything I have been through.
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