The Yachtsman 2017-2018 2017-2018 | Page 32

R PAY C A C T I V I T I E S R PAY C A C T I V I T I E S INVICTUS GAMES GUIDES OUR FINEST S ailing had long played a starring role in Rob Saunders’ life. He was introduced to it as a five-year- old by his father, took up racing dinghies, progressed to yachts and eventually competed in eight Sydney to Hobart races.  Invictus Games Helping Guide Our Finest To A Better Place Photos: Jayson Tufrey © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence However, since his latest deployment to Afghanistan a couple of years ago, the Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader has directed his energy elsewhere. “I’ve had to focus on my family and myself, just sort out a few things,” Saunders says. “There’s been some mental health issues from various factors, but certainly deployment in a war zone didn’t help.” The 53-year-old’s rehabilitation is “a bit of a tough road”, he admits. But a positive part of the journey has been getting back into a boat, drawing vitality from the sun, sea and air, and spirit from his mates. In 58 YA C H T S M A N R PAY C October, Saunders represented Australia in a different theatre to his work with the RAAF, sailing on Sydney Harbour at the Invictus Games. Rob Saunders has benefited from the mateship sailing provides. The Sydney Invictus Games will be the fourth edition of the sporting competition for wounded soldiers. It will feature about 500 competitors from 18 nations, competing in 11 sports. Sailing takes place on October 21 at Farm Cove with races to be held in the Hansa 303 and Elliott 7. “It’s really the camaraderie and mateship that I’ll get out of it,” Saunders says of why he wished to take part. “The teamwork is very enjoyable. For me, it’s about getting back out in the social world again and not isolating myself.” really dark places. Seeing them grow and lift has really been the real benefit out of it. It’s a whole-of-life thing, not just the sport. The sport is the catalyst, but it’s far more than that. We’ve been training hard, we definitely want to win. But the main ‘medal’ is the journey and the growth that we’ve all had.” Six Australian Defence Force personnel will compete in sailing, two in the Hansa 303 (both of whom are amputees) and four in the Elliott 7. “Some of the guys have little or no sailing experience,” Saunders says. “The Hansa guys have no experience, but they’re getting fantastic coaching through Sailability up at Newport and they’ve grown rapidly. The others, sailing the Elliott, have various levels of experience.” The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club has provided the Australian Team with great support. The support Saunders has received from his family and the ADF throughout his recovery has been “phenomenal” and, in preparing for the Invictus competition, “We’ve had fantastic coaching and support through the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and Tom Spithill”, the brother of dual America’s Cup-winning skipper, James Spithill. “They’ve opened their doors up, made everything available to us,” he says. “Tommy’s been providing coaching. He’s got a fantastic heart.” “I’m recovering well,” the aeronautical engineer says. “It’s been a bit of tough road, but things are coming good. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be fully back to normal and deployable.” “Sailing is part of it. The whole journey has taught me to appreciate the simple things in life, my family, people. We’ve been doing a lot of camping with my children, mountain biking with my son - it’s those little things that I’m getting a lot more pleasure from. It’s just about changing my focus and looking out for the important things in life.” “Some of the guys in the team have got some horrific injuries and it’s good to see how they deal with it, with a very positive attitude. It’s very uplifting.” “Some people have come from some  R PAY C YA C H T S M A N 59