RSL NSW Gets Active


Members of the Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On program have been in Australia this week catching up with members of RSL Active and RSL NSW. Soldier On gives assistance to currently serving members and veterans, helping them overcome physical and mental health illness and injury acquired while enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces. Since 2007 they have helped over 2,200 members through physical activity and sport.

Sunday 14th August was City2Surf day in Sydney. Over 67,000 people completed the race, including Captain MaryAnn Barber, a trauma critical care nurse with the Canadian Armed Forces. “It was amazing. There were more people running in that race than the town I live in”, she told RSL NSW. “The spirit and the atmosphere of it was so fantastic. I do a bit of running back home, but I’ve never been in anything like that.”

Captain Barber is soon to be medically released with post-traumatic stress disorder and has enjoyed her first experience with the Soldier On program. “This is my first activity with Soldier On but I plan on getting as involved as possible when I get back home. Not just participating but if I can help out as well”, she said. “It reunites people from all across the country, with various injuries, people who are out, people who are still serving”.

She credits being active with having saved her life. “It’s become the healthy coping mechanism”, she said. “What they’re (Soldier On) supporting and all these activities is great – plus the camaraderie of being here and being with so many other people who are active and staying fit makes a big difference.”

After running to Bondi Beach for the City2Surf race, Captain Barber returned on Tuesday morning for surfing lessons. She plans to come back for more time in the surf after the other Soldier On members head back home, as she’s taking some holidays to spend extra time here in Australia. “I was lucky enough to serve with some Australians in Kandaha on a couple of my tours so it was great being able to connect with some Aussies again.”

Captain Barber has a positive attitude towards trying new things and staying active, which epitomises what the Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On program is all about. “I’ve never surfed before and I was certainly a little hesitant this morning but you’ve just got to get out there and be active and try something new and challenge yourself”, she told RSL NSW. “The rewards you get are leaps and bounds over any medication or anything else anyone could give you. And just being around like-minded people who are active, the rewards are fantastic”.

Captain Barber at Bondi Beach

Captain MaryAnn Barber catches a wave at Bondi Beach with RSL Active and Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On

Stewart Sherman of the East Maitland RSL sub-Branch became involved with RSL Active after first seeing it mentioned on Facebook during the Invictus Games. “That’s what got me in”, he said. “Then I discovered what was happening post Invictus Games, with all the activities, and I thought, ‘I need to be a part of that’”.

Mr Sherman went to Orlando, Florida for this year’s Invictus Games and says it was a life-changing experience. “After being selected, I joined a gym and have lost 15kg, joined sporting clubs in my local area and now have new hobbies and passions that I didn’t have before. And now I want to volunteer and help others. It turned everything around for me.”

Being active is now a major part of Mr Sherman’s life. “I take my kids out more, my young fella does archery with me, we ride our bikes together, thing like that”, he told RSL NSW. “As far as my mental health is concerned, my whole family reckons that things have dramatically changed. Better than any drug or any hospital admission could achieve. It’s true – sport works.”

Mr Sherman was also at Bondi Beach on Tuesday morning learning to surf. “It was really refreshing and relaxing and I can see how it can be therapeutic for people as well. It was fun”, he said. “I think there were a number of people who were scared of going into the water, or not confident, but all going in together, it motivates you to give it a go”.

Mr Sherman believes having a broad approach to RSL Active’s activities helps keep it interesting. “Trying things that people don’t normally do, to remove them from their comfort zone ever so slightly, it opens up a new passion”, he said. He is also of the opinion that activities involving team work is more effective for those participating. “That’s something that we miss when we leave the military, is that camaraderie and the bonds that you have with people”.

“Things that you can do together, even outdoor stuff, like orienteering and abseiling, those sorts of challenging things are good fun and get your adrenalin going and challenge you. That’s what people need – to be challenged”, Mr Sherman said. He also enjoyed spending time with the team from Canada. “It’s just like hanging out with your mates from the army. We’re all the same no matter where we come from”. Mr Sherman would encourage others to get involved with RSL Active, even just to connect on Facebook to begin with to stay informed about what is being organised in the future.

Stewart Sherman at Bondi Beach with RSL Active

Stewart Sherman at the end of the surfing lesson with RSL Active and Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On team

The Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On team were in Sydney until Thursday 18th August.

RSL Active with Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On

RSL Active with Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On learning to surf