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Lower Hutt woman healing through sport at Invictus Games

Lower Hutt woman Kiely Pepper will be flying the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) flag in Australia next month, when she competes in the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.

The Games are the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and ill current and former servicemen and women. This year’s event, in Sydney from 20-27 October, will involve competitors from 18 allied nations in 11 different adaptive sports. The NZDF is sending a team of 24.

Major Pepper, who has been in the New Zealand Army for 22 years, is eligible to compete because of ill health – she has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) since 1997 and in 2015 was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I saw the Invictus Games as a way to set and reach some goals that have eluded me for quite some time, and to do it in a safe environment with some good coaching,” she said.

“Obviously the pinnacle is going to the Games.”

Major Pepper will compete in archery, indoor rowing, cycling and wheelchair basketball in Sydney.

Her illnesses have both been debilitating.

“People understand cancer. The support for cancer is unbelievable. A lot of women who have had breast cancer have paved the way for people like me to have a better time of it.

“(But) CFS is very difficult to diagnose and there was very little awareness of what it was about when I got it. It’s a horrible condition. It’s very mean because it’s very inconsistent and painful.”

The NZDF had been incredibly supportive throughout both illnesses, including allowing her to have flexible work hours and working with her to identify suitable roles, she said.

“My family have also been very supportive throughout both illnesses and can see how the Invictus Games are helping with my recovery.”

The Games are the brainchild of Prince Harry, who was inspired by the Warrior Games in the United States. He launched the first Invictus Games in London in 2014, aiming to help competitors on their journey to recovery through the power of sport.

That journey is taking Major Pepper far and wide – she recently returned from a world breast cancer dragon boating regatta in Italy, where she was part of Wellington’s CanSurvive team, which finished second.

Having the sporting goals of the dragon boating regatta and the Invictus Games had helped in her recovery, she said.

“It distracts you from the illness, to a certain degree, and helps you to consider what you can do instead of what you can’t.

“It also helps you to feel healthier, and being around others who have suffered but are ‘moving on’ is inspirational.

“With Invictus, you belong to a team that has NZDF links and some awareness or understanding of illness/injury difficulties, so everyone is helping each other.”

This year’s Invictus Games are being presented by Jaguar Land Rover. The NZDF team is sponsored by Auckland RSA, Christchurch Memorial RSA, Fulton Hogan, Jaguar Land Rover and Direct Sport.

Throughout the Games the team’s journey can be followed on:

NZDF Invictus Team Facebook: facebook.com/NZInvictusTeam

NZDF Invictus Team Instagram: @NZInvictusTeam

NZDF Twitter: @nzdefenceforce

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