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At the end of a bushfire season, Craig Harrison and his fellow volunteers in the ACT Rural Fire Service usually get together, have a couple of drinks, and unpack what they have all been through.
In 2020, after one of the most intense seasons in living memory, he didn’t get that opportunity.
COVID-19 hit the country and Craig went into lockdown, still dealing with what had unfolded during the 250 hours he had worked during the bushfire season.
“We didn’t get the chance to debrief after the bushfires, COVID hit pretty much straight away,” said Craig.
“We couldn’t train and normally you would get together and have a few beers and talk about things that happened during the season – near misses and that sort of stuff.
“After COVID hit, it didn’t feel natural to bring it all up again six months or a year later.”
Craig says he didn’t handle the first anniversary of the fires well. However, during the following 12 months, he participated in some of Fortem Australia’s wellbeing activities.
“Doing the activities with Fortem, and keeping connected with other people and the family helped me even though I didn’t realise it,” said Craig.
“When I first started engaging with Fortem it wasn’t from a mental health point of view, I just love doing things and learning things.
“I did a guitar lesson, I did a painting course with my daughter and the whole family went ten pin bowling.
“I look back now and even though I didn’t think I needed any mental health support, doing that stuff with Fortem and keeping connected with other people and my family helped me even if I didn’t realise it was helping at the time.”
It was this connection to Fortem that saw Craig throw his hat in the ring to join Team Fortem for the New York Marathon.
He has run 5 marathons previously and was set to add to that number by taking part in the Canberra Marathon this year but was ruled out after catching COVID two days before the run.
Craig has since recovered, had surgery on a foot injury allowing him to train pain-free and is aiming to set a PB in November.
“Having that training plan and structure is really good for me, and knowing I have the challenge to build up to the distance and going and completing it,” said Craig.
“I played rugby up until the age of 39, was a front rower and when I retired thought: ‘What am I going to do to not get hugely fat after I stop playing?’
“A friend’s wife ran marathons, and I thought it was cool and would be a good challenge, so I did my first one in Michigan in 2011 and was hooked after that.
“I don’t mind getting out there, putting on headphones and running while listening to music or podcasts – It is kind of relaxing, as funny as some people might find that.”
Media contact: Simon Anderson, M – 0448 601 391 E – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Fortem Australia acknowledges First Nations peoples and communities as the Traditional Owners of the land. We acknowledge and pay our respects to Elders past and present, and emerging leaders.