Army veteran Tilly shares how the Invictus Games is supporting her recovery after a knee injury ended her military career.
When the British Army came to Tilly’s home country of Fiji looking to recruit, Tilly didn’t hesitate to put herself forward for the job. It had been her dream to become an Officer.
The process was intensely competitive, with Tilly being one of 5,000 people to apply. From the first round, only 50 were selected, and Tilly, incredibly, was one of only nine women from that number.
My father always told me that as a female in a man’s world I needed to work twice as hard to succeed.
Life in the Armed Forces
Tilly loved service life, and even the difficult bits only helped her grow better and stronger.
“My father always told me that as a female in a man’s world I needed to work twice as hard to succeed,” says Tilly.
“I think I took that advice, and it made me determined to do my best and to prove others wrong. My military life wasn’t without exposure to racism and sexism, but I felt that it just made me more driven to pursue my Army career.”
After training, Tilly was posted to Iraq as her first tour, an experience that felt both “scary” and “dangerous” to her at the time.
“It was a shock to go out there for my first tour, to experience the new sounds and sights. But being there all together with your comrades was just unlike anything I had done before.
“Little things would keep us going – I joined a band and played the guitar to keep morale up.”
Injury and discharge
Tilly went on to complete two tours of Afghanistan as part of the 2 Rifles. During her time out there, her company suffered the loss of 11 of their own.
“Being the only female in the company, I had a lot of brothers who were very protective over me, so when we began to lose friends, it was hard,” she says.
Although Tilly began to experience symptoms of PTSD around three years before she left the Army, she was reluctant to report it to the medical centre as she didn’t want it to affect her chances of promotion.
“I just lived with it and masked it for years and would just carry on as if the feelings I was having were normal.
I had low moods, suicidal thoughts and I just thought well that’s part of what I have been through.
During this difficult time, sport was Tilly’s lifeline. She found joy in playing for the Army’s rugby team, finding that it gave her focus and motivation, and helped with her mental health too.
Unfortunately, she sustained a knee injury whilst playing sport, which eventually led to her medical discharge from the Army in 2016.
“In the end it wasn’t my mental health that led to my medical discharge, but my physical health due to my knee injury,” says Tilly.
Selection for Invictus Games
As part of her recovery journey, Tilly attended a few of the Invictus Games pre-selection training camps, which gave her the chance to try out new sports she wasn’t familiar with.
This gave her the confidence to then apply for the Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023.
Being selected for Team UK has left Tilly feeling “excited” and “very honoured”.
“I cannot wait to be part of something again,” she says. “It’s a sense of belonging and camaraderie that I really do miss. It’s just such a huge thing to be a part of, just like being in the military, and it’s already providing me with a great boost.”
While some sports she’s signed up for are new to Tilly, wheelchair rugby is more familiar to her due to her time in the Army, with the Invictus Games giving her the chance to play again.
“I’ve put myself forward for several sports, including powerlifting, shotput, discus and wheelchair rugby,” says Tilly.
“The wheelchair rugby can be intense, but it’s so much fun. It takes me back to my days of playing rugby for the Army, only this time I don’t have the strain on my knees!
Wheelchair rugby is fast paced and competitive, I still have a lot to learn about the game but I’m loving it.
Invictus Games and recovery
Tilly can already see the effects that being part of Team UK is having on her recovery journey.
Going to the taster sessions alone “gave me the boost I needed to start thinking about finding new clubs, and new sports”.
“Physically and mentally, it’s already given me a new sense of drive to succeed and achieve new things. Sport has always been a big part of my life, and now it will be part of my ongoing recovery which is exciting.”
“Going out to Düsseldorf is going to be a real thrill and I just want to go out and push myself to achieve new personal bests.
“I’ve already started to look into wheelchair rugby clubs, and now pursuing new sports like shotput and discus has really given me a new push for the Games and beyond.”