Tilda Brownlow is the reason her school took the chance to watch the Invictus Games in Sydney up close. (ABC: Taryn Southcombe)
Of the several hundred schoolchildren attending the latest day of action at the Invictus Games in Sydney, Tilda Brownlow stands out from the crowd.
And not just because of her bright smile or skill on the court in her very first experience of playing wheelchair basketball.
Tilda, now 12, was born with fibular hemimelia and at the age of two had to have her left leg foot amputated. The prosthetic limb she wears is a kaleidoscope of colour, a rainbow pattern designed to celebrate her distinctiveness rather than disguise it.
“Nothing gets in her way, nothing stops her,” says teacher Natasha Martin, as she watches Tilda in action amongst classmates from the sideline.
Competitors take part in the dry land rowing event at the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney. (ABC: Taryn Southcombe)
Tilda is also the driving reason behind her class enrolling in an initiative that has brought them to the Games in the first place.
The primary school student is one of over 6000 kids this week taking part in a structured learning experience at the Invictus Games – an international multi-sport event for wounded, sick and injured service personnel – designed to promote resilience and inclusion.
“It was pretty hard. It was fun but there were a few challenges,” said Tilda.
“People were bumping into each other because they weren’t used to being in wheelchairs.”
For Tilda the Games are a chance to see other men and women who share her own physical challenges in life excel and to be inspired by them. But also for her to do the same for her classmates.
Tilda Brownlow’s teacher, Natasha Martin, joins her student in experiencing a game of wheelchair basketball. (ABC: Taryn Southcombe)
“We thought this would be a really good opportunity to broaden everybody’s knowledge about what the Invictus Games is,” says Martin.
“They all want to have a go, they are loving it.”
An initiative years in the making
Harbord Public School is one of 185 primary schools who will watch the Invictus Games over the coming days, part of an innovative program that is the first of its kind.
Former Principal and Strategic Projects Officer for Education New South Wales, Sue French, says the initiative has been years in the making but based on the look on these kids’ faces, it’s already paying off.
“What we are doing here with the Invictus Games has never been done before, by any other event,” said French.
“What we wanted to do was for the students to be in a position where they had a bit of an understanding of what was going on here.
“When you have a whole lot of kids, just spectators, it can be a really complicated situation, because they can get bored and start to play up and any learning that they do is by chance.
“We wanted to give them a range of experiences that would help them really deeply think about those issues; reliance, inclusion and service.”
The wheelchair basketball game is one of a number of activities that have been put in place for students, who will also spend time learning about prosthetic limbs, playing other sports and of course, cheering on competitors from all over the world.
Competitors give their all during the indoor rowing event at the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney. (ABC: Taryn Southcombe)
Workshops are being run alongside competition, by the likes of Wheelchair Sports NSW, University of NSW, Assistance Dogs Australia spending time with students at Sydney Olympic Park.
“I think it builds resilience, it builds empathy and it builds understanding,” explained French.
“We can do some really smart work here and keep them engaged and expose them to all sorts of events and people from around the world.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover
French, who used to be a school principal, says today is proof that the Invictus Games connects with students in a unique way.
“When the kids arrived this morning, we came out here to the stands and we had Rachel Kerrigan, who is a former competitor, and she spoke for about 20 minutes.
“In a mixed group like this you would have expected a couple of questions, but we had over ten and the kids were really ready to go, it was fantastic.”
As for Tilda, she’s very comfortable continuing to assist with the education of her class mates beyond these workshops at the Invictus Games, to help them better understand that life is full of challenges, that can be overcome.
“I feel like a role model and that I am teaching them lots of things,” said Tilda.
The biggest lesson she’d like to pass on? A simple message she is telling with her attitude and optimism every day: “Don’t judge a book by a cover.”