RAAF Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery is using sport to heal his physical and mental injuries | photos

INSPIRATIONAL: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an Invictus Games athlete, with "Daphne" at Fighter World in Williamtown on Wednesday. During his years with the RAAF he has worked on jets like Daphne. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

INSPIRATIONAL: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an Invictus Games athlete, with "Daphne" at Fighter World in Williamtown on Wednesday. During his years with the RAAF he has worked on jets like Daphne. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Danny Jeffery calls himself a “bit of a showbag”.

Both his knees need replacing, he has a a severe lumbar and cervical spine injury, plus he is looking at reconstructions on both his shoulders.

And on top of the physical injuries, he battles with his mental health.

But the Coal Point resident, who has been a member of the Royal Australian Air Force for 35 years, has not let potentially career-ending issues get him down.

Instead, he throws his time and energy into helping himself and others, doing so through sport.

Squadron Leader Jeffery is part of the Australian Defence Force’s adaptive sports program.

Through it, he has had the opportunity to take part in the US Air Force’s Warrior Games plus two Invictus Games.

GOOD JOB: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an Invictus Games athlete, with his service dog Max at Fighter World in Williamtown. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

GOOD JOB: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an Invictus Games athlete, with his service dog Max at Fighter World in Williamtown. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

The Games are a parasport event established by Prince Harry in 2014 for wounded, injured or sick veterans and active armed services personnel.

“I used to be a stand-up tennis player, stand-up basketball player, I used to play rugby,” Squadron Leader Jeffery said.

“It was only when I got the first of my physical injuries, my lumbar spine, that I started having to put a stop to that.

“Sport was always a big part of my life, then I just had to stop it.

“Being part of the adaptive sport program has changed my life.”

Squadron Leader Jeffery is now classified as a professional wheelchair tennis player.

He has the ability to walk, aided by a walking stick, but is a competitive wheelchair athlete.

So much so he has been selected for the national wheelchair tennis circuit, with his first major tournament scheduled for the end of June at the Queensland Open.

Additionally, Squadron Leader Jeffery volunteers with Wheelchair Sports NSW.

"I joined the air force when I was 16. It's all I've ever done. I started off working on aircraft, on this one (behind him), a Mirage. It shows how old I am, they're in museums now." - Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery at Fighter World in Williamtown. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

"I joined the air force when I was 16. It's all I've ever done. I started off working on aircraft, on this one (behind him), a Mirage. It shows how old I am, they're in museums now." - Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery at Fighter World in Williamtown. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Along with a number of other volunteers, he helps with children’s wheelchair sports in Broadmeadow on a Saturday.

The path he is on now all started in 2013.

After returning home from a tour to Afghanistan he was diagnosed with having depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.

“I came back from a tour overseas in April 2013,” he said.

I came back from a tour overseas in April 2013. I was identified by the system straight away as needing some assistance with mental health. I started my journey then. I stepped out of the shadows, asked for some help. I had some physical injuries but they were easier to deal with. - Danny Jeffery

“I was identified by the system straight away as needing some assistance with mental health.

“I started my journey then. I stepped out of the shadows, asked for some help.

“I had some physical injuries but they were easier to deal with.”

HARD WORK: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery playing seated volleyball, which he will compete in if selected for the 2017 Invictus Games.

HARD WORK: Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery playing seated volleyball, which he will compete in if selected for the 2017 Invictus Games.

The journey has not been without some setbacks for the aeronautical engineer, who is posted to 81 Wing at RAAF Base Williamtown.

He was cleared by doctors for a tour to Afghanistan in 2015.

Feeling “good to go”, Squadron Leader Jeffery went to the Middle East on his ninth deployment.

Five weeks in he experienced a “major retrograde”.

“I was found in the corner of our work diamond just a dribbling crying wreck,” he said.

“They did the right thing by me. They put me in the care of the US Air Force.

“I did a fantastic program with them over 12 weeks. Then came home about a month early and started that pathway to recovery.

“I’ve always openly spoken about it because I think it’s important, just to raise confidence in others to speak about it.”

Since then, his full-time focus has been on rehabilitation and recovery using different tools.

The adaptive sports program has been the main one.

“For me its all about working back up to a deploy-able status, trying to get medical clearance and back where I can continue my career.”

While sport as a recovery tool is not for everyone, it has been for Squadron Leader Jeffrey.

And being part of the Invictus Games has been a large part of his recovery.

Squadron Leader Jeffery took part in the London 2014 and Orlando 2016 Invictus Games.

He will find out on June 20 whether he will be one of the 43 Australians heading to Canada for the September 2017 Games.

NICE GUY: Prince Harry with Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an aeronautical engineer at RAAF Base Williamtown, at the Invictus Games launch in Sydney on June 7.

NICE GUY: Prince Harry with Squadron Leader Danny Jeffery, an aeronautical engineer at RAAF Base Williamtown, at the Invictus Games launch in Sydney on June 7.

Squadron Leader Jeffery said selection meant you became part of the “Invictus family”.

“We’re an international family,” he said.

“The whole Invictus family just try and encourage others to not be put down by the hand they’ve been dealt, take it on, move forward.”

One of his Invictus highlights, aside from having some quality one-on-one time with Prince Harry in Sydney for the Games launch on June 7, was rolling out for the wheelchair rugby at the London Games.

“We rolled out to a crowd of 60,000 people cheering,” he said.

“Then you look up at the team boards and see the Australian flag.

“For all of us, we’ve worn that flag with pride overseas but we never thought we'd get that opportunity to wear that flag again.

“That's probably my biggest, personal buzz.

“But then you look around and see all the other athletes, they’re living the same buzz.”

If he is selected for the 2017 Games, Squadron Leader Jeffery will compete in wheelchair rugby, tennis and seated volleyball.

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