Family & Friends. They are the closest thing to the Invictus Games competitors. Saw them at their worst moments, gave the push when it was needed, and listened or stimulated. Just what was needed. We made a series with Invictus Games competitors and one or more of their Family & Friends. In this last episode: Carl Booty (55) from New Zealand and his wife Debs. Unfortunately they can’t come to The Netherlands, due to the COVID19-pandemic. They, however, will think a lot about the competitors who will gather in The Hague next week.
By Edward Swier
It’s a well-known mistake. Carl Booty has had visible problems with his back for years, which was one of the reasons for leaving the Air Force. But no, not that back put Booty in touch with New Zealand’s Invictus Games squad. Booty has, and he no longer finds that a difficult subject, PTSD. “I’ve been shrouded in mystery for a long time, didn’t think others needed to know about my problems. I now know that you should talk about it. That is part of the recovery process. Only then can you start to feel better.”
As an Air Force photographer, in 2004 he saw terrible things after the tsunami in Thailand (Phuket) and Indonesia (Banda Aceh). “I was there to capture imagery of the New Zealand Defence Force operation, but of course also saw a lot of suffering and death. That added to previous cases that I had not yet processed. I was a wreck when I got back, but my wife and I didn’t or hardly shared it with others in the for years.’’
That he joined the recovery program in New Zealand was therefore of great importance, Booty acknowledges. “It really helped me a lot. It’s huge. I was depressed, anxious, had sleepless nights, but now I am surrounded by a group of people who understand me. And who can help me, by talking about it. Plus, exercising makes me better. I feel fitter. And can change my mind. In archery you think about nothing but your task, you go through the shooting process. And when I go cycling, I push my limits. Until three years ago, I had not been on a bike since going to school, but now I always feel better when I finish a ride. It brings me a lot of pleasure, just like with the wheelchair basketball that I have also started to play. We even became national champions with our Auckland Breakers B-team. And I became an archery coach for young team. That was a revelation to me, I really hadn’t done that for decades. As I also recently discovered how much I enjoy working out and doing my best, I discovered that I am quite competitive. When I’m on my bike, I always want to go a little bit faster. That surprised me a bit, to be honest.’’
Debs: “All in all, it has had a lot more impact than we could ever have imagined.” Carl’s wife has seen her husband improve since he talked about his mental health issues and joined the Invictus community. She also realizes that it is important to assist her husband. Family & Friends are of great importance for people with a physical disability, but for veterans and military personnel with a mental injury, the support is perhaps even more important. Debs: “I stand behind him, I support him in the back. That’s all it is, I actually think it’s logic, I’ve always done that during our marriage. But I do understand the importance of it. Although I will never be able to understand all the misery he went through. Sure you can talk about it, but I can’t take away the impact of the smell and those penetrating images. Luckily we talked about it together from the day he came back. I also remember how his uniform smelled like dead people.’’
There is, out of a kind of habit, a lot of laughter in the Booty house. “That’s a mechanism, we laugh a lot here”, admits Carl. “Although nowadays we often laugh because we enjoy it more.”
However, sometimes Carl does make excuses. “I used to be away from home for a longer period of time, on a mission. Or for a long-term assignment. After that I had chosen to be at home more often.
But because of my involvement in the Invictus Games, I often have sporting obligations and training, I am regularly away most evenings. I actually go through this process for myself and my family, but I am often not there again. But I believe they can accept that’’, Booty says with a laugh. “Debs has had a lot of less fun moments, the time when I struggled with depression and panic attacks. Especially in the time after the tsunami I often hid. It took me years to take the family to the beach and would often make up excuses not to go.’’
Now that is less of an issue. Conversations have helped Carl to recover, his sporting efforts also contribute. By the way, it was a double celebration on the day Carl heard that he had been selected for the Invictus Games on behalf of New Zealand. Debs: “On that day our son married with his husband. So there was no limit of luck that day.”
But no matter how hard and enthusiastic Booty trained, he and his family – and the other members of the New Zealand delegation – will not come to The Hague. For various reasons, a number of countries have had to cancel, including New Zealand. The country’s COVID19-measures have been strict for the past two years, and it was already decided not to travel to the Netherlands in the winter. “Of course that was a big blow. It’s really hard, a lot of tears were shed when we got the message. But there is, of course, a lot of understanding. You then have the feeling for a moment: I have trained completely for nothing. But that is of course nonsense, you always benefit from it. What matters most is that we feel that we have not yet completed the journey with our team, the personal journey moreover. We will now do that in Düsseldorf in 2023. It is important that everyone in our team can still complete the journey.”
Debs: “It is of course quite difficult mentally that Carl and his teammates cannot go to The Hague. That feels like a loss. We were really looking forward to coming to The Hague, would have loved to meet everyone.”
The New Zealand team was hoping to come together during the opening weekend of the Invictus Games, but literally on the other side of the world. Carl: “We still feel connected to the rest, we would have liked to do a haka for everyone.”