Family & Friends. They are the closest to the competitors of the Invictus Games. Saw them at their worst moments, gave them a push when it was needed, and listened or stimulated. Just what was needed. When the Invictus Games are held in The Hague in April, they will be there as well, to support their loved ones. We made a series together with Invictus Games competitors and one or more of their Family & Friends. In this episode: Fenna Geugjes, her partner Bertine and good friend Saskia.
By Edward Swier
Fenna Geugjes (now 31, but will be 32 during the Invictus Games) has been playing basketball her whole life. In her youth she always went out with a sports bag, but nowadays a wheelchair must be taken to the sports hall as well. She notices that sometimes it can be uncomfortable for others, when she mentions in passing that she plays wheelchair basketball – both with her teammates of the Dutch Invictus Games team and in a club setting with BV Hoofddorp. “While for myself it is not an issue at all. I used to play basketball, but now I can’t run or jump anymore. And so now I use a wheelchair. Where others might see this as a disability, the chair means freedom to me. I get to do what I like.”
Geugjes’ life changed abruptly when she was injured during a parachute jump in 2015. Her work at the Royal Navy suddenly became too much, with prolonged standing, running and a lot of walking taking a toll on her, even after several operations. She sustained a permanent ankle disability as a result of the accident. Moreover, the uncertainty and physical pain caused mental problems. Fenna fell into a depression and even a hearing loss came to light. “That intensified the depression even more.”
Her partner Bertine: “In 2018 and 2019, things went really badly for Fenna. She became very depressed after shattering her leg. There was one big, black hole. Fenna didn’t feel like anything made any sense at all anymore, she became an emotionless zombie. But now – a few years later – things are going great. We have renovated our house; it will be comfortably warm again this winter, and we are having a baby together. Above all, Fenna is back to her old self again. Or rather: her new old self. Because she is much better at defining her own limits now.
Friend Saskia sees pictures of Fenna through social media on her phone now and then. “What always strikes me when I see photos from that time, is that the sparkle in her eyes is missing. While she used to have such a spontaneous look. Nowadays I cannot imagine that there was a time when things were not going as well as they should. The light is back, she has found her happiness again.
According to all three, it is partially thanks to Fenna’s introduction to the Invictus Games that things are going better again. “It was certainly one of the pieces of the puzzle. Of course, the people around me also played a role in the end, as well as therapy.”
During her rehabilitation at the Department of Defence, she got the suggestion to join a basketball training session. Bertine: “I remember that she thought it was strange that they asked her to do that. But after the first training session she was completely sold.
Fenna: “After the accident, I had been in that revalidation centre so many times… The operation didn’t work immediately, it took a lot of operations. That’s why I couldn’t stay in the Navy, so I started a civil job as a nurse. However, I couldn’t really do all that walking any more. When I reached my physical limits, that is when things started to go wrong mentally. Especially when it turned out that I would no longer be able to hear properly without a hearing device. I ended up at the mental healthcare institution that is linked to the department of Defence. At one point, they encouraged me to start exercising again and they suggested that I try wheelchair basketball.
Back with her old love, basketball, Fenna found the fun in little things again. The fact that she was in the running to participate in the Invictus Games in her own country was a stimulus. “I got a goal to work on, it really gave me something to look forward to”.
In the meantime, Bertine and Saskia listened especially to Fenna, who was struggling with herself. “You hope that you can do something to help,” says Saskia. “But of course, that is quite difficult at times. Just trying to get back to normal life when everything is hard on you, is not easy at all. We were able to talk about it from the beginning, but you don’t want it to be just tough conversations only. So, we joked around when we could and, if necessary, shed a tear. All in all, I am very proud of those two. It has of course been very difficult for Bertine as well. I am proud of Fenna, for showing such perseverance. All in all, our friendship has become a little bit closer.
Bertine confirms that it has been “a very difficult time”. “Fenna was really in a dark place, she couldn’t be pulled out of it easily. I kept saying that I cared about her, that it was okay. And of course, I went along to all the therapy and doctor’s appointments. You do everything to make someone feel better.”
Fenna: “I couldn’t drive, first because of my leg and later because of my mental state. Bertine drove, always. Later she also went along to the Invictus training sessions. She even played basketball with me for a while. I found that very special. Of course, at the time it was practical for her to help me, but now I can see how wonderful it was that she supported me, was there for me and gave me her time and love”.
The fact that the Invictus Games were postponed twice hit the whole Invictus family hard. And naturally, it had a big impact on Fenna as well. For example, she really regrets the fact that since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, the basketball team has never been completely together. “We were able to train again during the periods when there was no lockdown, but we never all got together again.”
That she was also asked to participate in swimming at the Invictus Games caused Fenna to step over another obstacle. “My hearing aid is not waterproof, so I have to take that off. And in such a reverberating pool you don’t hear a thing. I had to learn to trust that I could do it without hearing device”.
On the other hand, the break that came with the pandemic also brought some rest. “Sometimes I quite liked the fact that I didn’t have to do anything for a while. That may have been the final push towards recovery. Finally I have really found the balance, I am doing very well. In the meantime, I am also back at work, doing IT work in the hospital.”
In April Fenna will be going to the Invictus Games with a lot of enthusiasm. Bertine and Saskia are her Family & Friends. “We are really looking forward to it. I think it’s extra fun because I have gotten to know the other players of the wheelchair basketball team now”, says Bertine.
Saskia has an extra task coming up that week… “I’ll be sharing a hotel room with Bertine in The Hague. And that’s going to be special. Because their baby will be here by then. And I can be a stand-in for Fenna for a week”.