Aussie chaplain wraps up the Tokyo Paralympics

‘My life will never be the same’

Wow! What an amazing experience and unbelievable journey the last few weeks have been. My life will never be the same.

From the moment I was invited to be the chaplain of the Australian Paralympic team, at the most intriguing and successful Games ever, until my time in quarantine, this experience has been exhilarating and uplifting. To say that I am grateful, honoured and blessed, would be a huge understatement.

The preparation for these Games was intense and stressful – from regular COVID tests, vaccine shots, online training courses and numerous Zoom meetings, to daily health check-ups, such as temperature-taking and filling out questionnaires.

‘Expect the unexpected’ was one of my mantras going into these rather unique Games. ‘Love, encourage and don’t judge’ is my mantra for life and my church – a Salvation Army church I founded called ‘God’s Sports Arena’. These guiding words assisted me in my role during this intense couple of weeks.

Like our Paralympic athletes, we need to dream big, set goals, change our mindset and work towards living a fulfilled life.

My role as team chaplain included such tasks as washing dishes, restocking fridges, emptying bins, vacuuming, serving meals, stocking team eskies, transportation, meeting and greeting athletes and staff into the village, journeying with teams, athletes and staff. It also included private consultations with athletes and staff regarding spiritual issues, grief, conflict, performance, homesickness, fear (of the post-Games quarantine), the list goes on. I think you get the general gist: playing the servant role and helping wherever help was needed. Drawing on the inspiration of Jesus who was the model servant, I absolutely loved it!

The professional highlight of these Games for me was been asked to journey with a team that had conflict. Journeying with the coach and athletes was both challenging and rewarding. To see this team have a successful Games, with no conflict and an experience to savour, with a heap of fun thrown in, was a win all round.

My personal highlight of these Games was being able to go to events at the Olympic stadium. Not only did I get to witness events and mix with Australian athletes and staff, I got to see some of the sights of Tokyo in getting to and from events.

The connections, friendships and, most importantly, the spiritual conversations and opportunities to show God’s love, will stay with me forever. A particularly treasured moment was being called to the ‘quiet’ room to find someone balling their eyes out, then being able to chat, encourage, be a shoulder to lean on, and seeing that person walk away with a smile on their face.

These Paralympic athletes will make me grateful for the rest of my life. I have legs and arms, and eyes to see – I live such a blessed and privileged life. However, we all have disabilities of some description. Like our Paralympic athletes, we need to dream big, set goals, change our mindset and work towards living a fulfilled life.

Journeying with athletes and staff with a Christian faith was encouraging and uplifting for me. I trust I was the same for them. My prayers for health, safety, connections and ministry opportunities were well and truly answered.

Some of the incredible athletes I got to journey with included Dylan Alcott (wheelchair tennis), Michael Roeger (marathon runner), Jaryd Clifford (track and marathon runner) and Alistair Donohue (track and road cycling). The gratitude these guys expressed to me at the completion of these Games makes it all worthwhile.

I’m now in quarantine, in a hotel in downtown Sydney, for 14 days. Being so well looked after in so many ways is again a wonderful blessing. I now have time to rest, reflect, regenerate and connect with family and friends, and, of course, God. I am grateful for the prayers, support, encouraging messages and for God’s provision, care and the opportunity of a lifetime.

I am more grateful, hungrier than ever to put others first and to live life to the absolute full.

Exercise has been a challenge, however, in quarantine. Running 10kms in my room I see as an achievement worth noting! Cycling (stationary bike), walking, running, bodyweight exercise and stretching sessions are helping pass the time more quickly.

I return home to Brisbane this week, a changed person. I am more grateful, hungrier than ever to put others first and to live life to the absolute full – to savour every minute of every day.

I’m looking forward to catching up with family and friends, and getting back into ‘normal’ life with my business, running my church and making time for my family and friends. I certainly won’t miss the many Covid tests (23 tests over 37 days) and daily health and temperature checks – although I’m still most grateful that this helped keep me safe, healthy and well.

God is so good. I thank him constantly for what he does in my life every day and for continuing to provide me with life-changing opportunities.