Co-captain of the Australian 2018 Invictus team, Nicole Bradley, aims to give herself and the national team the mental edge in Sydney, putting into practice what she has learned from her studies at the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP).
Nicole said: “Preparation has been going really well for the team. The importance of sport and activity to mental health can’t be emphasized enough.”
For the 45 year-old from Canberra, Sydney will not only be her first Invictus Games – where she’ll be competing for gold in powerlifting, shotput and discus – it will also be her first stint at co-captaining the Australian team. In between preparing for intense competition and looking after her two children, she has also been studying a graduate diploma in counselling with ACAP in her current hometown of Brisbane.
“What I have learnt about counselling is that it is as much as knowing yourself as knowing how to help others,” Nicole said.
“It’s great for self development and provides great tools for communication that I can apply to my role as co-captain. Ultimately, being a calm, safe presence is what I strive to be in this environment.”
Although a newcomer to the Invictus Games, Nicole is no stranger to taking to the field. Twenty-three years with the Australian Army in locations such as Timor Leste, and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in Israel and Lebanon, gave her both incredible and trying experiences.
Intense training for these challenges in her early career led to Nicole being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in both feet, affecting the connective tissue supporting the arch of the foot, and Compartment Syndrome in her legs; a potentially life-threatening condition which decreases the flow of blood and deprives muscles and nerves of nutrients.
“Since taking up powerlifting, symptoms resulting from the blocked veins have largely dissipated. Going to the gym keeps my emotions in check and has increased my interest in physical activity and its relationship to better mental health,” she said.
Nicole first applied to be part of Invictus back in 2016, looking for her next challenge and to connect with the veteran community after discharging in 2015. Although initially unsuccessful, she was encouraged to apply again by 2017 Invictus competitor and friend, Sarah Watson, following Sarah’s amazing run of gold medals in Toronto.
“Being named the Australian co-captain makes me enormously proud. It feels great to represent our team and for them to be happy with what I am doing,” Nicole said.
She has already seen success this year, winning Gold at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, USA. She used the competition as preparation to take part in Invictus, her physical and mental performance leading to her first gold medal win. Nicole summed up her experience by saying “Winning gold in powerlifting at the Warrior Games is a huge highlight of my life.”
Already holding two Australian Masters Bench Press records, along with her gold medal earlier in the year means that Nicole is ready to beat her personal best, add to her medal cabinet and hopefully help others in her team to do the same in Sydney. No easy task but Nicole is up for the challenge.
“The Invictus Games is a great opportunity to see the breadth of issues facing the veteran community. We have people who were injured in battle, suffered traumatic brain injuries, amputees, as well as people facing significant issues of depression due to pressure, self harm and anxiety. We don’t all have PTSD but we all have had our mental condition affected by our service,” Nicole said.
“Studying counselling at ACAP helped me to identify some of the issues related to my service that I hadn’t realised in preparing for competitive sport.
“Among the service people I have met along the Invictus road, the positive effects are of sport to mental health are undeniable.”