A new group of serving and former Australian soldiers will take on one of the most gruelling long ocean yacht races in the world as part of their rehabilitation and to raise awareness of the challenges facing young service men and women today.
It’s only the second time in the 70 year history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race a serious challenger – the Volvo Ocean 60 Spirit of Mateship – will be crewed by wounded, injured and ill Australian current and ex-Defence members.
The Spirit of Mateship and its unique crew captured the imagination of Australia last year when it first entered the blue water classic after the yacht was launched by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Skippered by nine-time Rolex Sydney Hobart veteran, Brisbane’s Russell McCart and with the help of several experienced yachtsmen the pocket maxi went on to win in its division.
2014 will be the first time this group of Mates from Mates4Mates will compete in the race as part of the not-for-profit’s broader sailing rehabilitation program.
One of the Mates in the crew is 35-year-old former infantry soldier James Prascevic from Lorne in Victoria, who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his 10 year service with the Australian Army including deployments to Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I wanted to be involved in the 628 nautical mile course last year but wasn’t mentally ready for the challenge then,” Mr Prascevic said. “I’ve since pushed myself and taken on other sailing programs with Mates4Mates and I’m definitely ready now. Before Mate4Mates I could barely leave the house. Now I’m flying around the country challenging myself again. Eventually I want to sail non-stop around the world single handily to raise awareness for PTSD and depression.”
Joining James is Craig Hansen from Two Wells in South Australia who suffered horrific injuries when his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb while he was on deployment in Afghanistan in 2008. The 39 year old father of three, who has endured fourteen surgeries since being injured, said he’s only just starting to get his life back on track.
“Being involved on the Spirit of Mateship has been hard work and rewarding,” Mr Hansen said. “It has mentally and physically taken me out of my comfort zone where I haven’t been in the past few years since I was wounded. I missed out last year because I hadn’t done the training. I get my second chance this year and I’m really looking forward to this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Ross ‘Mac’ McIntosh from Kingaroy in Queensland who also suffers from PTSD from his fifteen year service with the Australian Army said he knew for the sake of his family he had to challenge himself again.
“I’m not thrilled about the situation I have found myself in, it is a stark contrast to the soldier I was and accepting that is an ongoing process,” Mr McIntosh said. “I haven’t been the easiest person to live with for a very long time but that’s changed since I became involved with Mates4Mates. For example, the sailing challenge has shown me an outlet for my aggression that is a positive thing; the harder you pull the halyard the faster the sail goes up.
“I am absolutely stoked but terrified to be included in this year’s Sydney to Hobart challenge; the Spirit of Mateship crew are solid blokes and I’d happily follow them anywhere.”
Mates4Mates Chairman Peter Davies said the charity’s sailing program is designed to introduce people to sailing at one end of the spectrum, right up to stretching participants to their limits in a positive environment by providing motivation, hardship, uncertainty and by building trust with fellow mates.
“Wherever it is on the spectrum for each individual, it is designed to support their recovery,” Mr Davies said. “While activities like this are priceless for those taking part, they do come at a significant cost to the organisation. Mates4Mates receives no government funding and relies heavily on the generosity and support of individuals, communities and businesses to provide unshakeable support for these remarkable men and women.
“We want to challenge Australia’s corporate community to get behind our Brave Mates and be a sponsor for the Spirit of Mateship and our sailing challenges. The community can also get involved by donating via the Everyday Hero fundraising site.”