Wagga’s Invictus Games athlete may not have met Prince Harry or Meghan Markle, but he did score a “sneaky selfie” with David Beckham.
Eight years ago, Nathan Whittington was learning to walk with one leg.
Last week he was running on an international stage.
The 25-year-old returned home this week, after competing against athletes from across the world at the 2018 event.
Private Whittington lost his foot in a jet ski accident when he was 18 years old, less than one year after he joined the Australian Army.
His career dreams quashed, he turned his sights to sport, setting himself impressive goals across years of recovery.
After successfully trekking the Kokoda trail with a prosthesis in 2015, he set his sights on the 2016 Paralympics. Despite an injury setback, Pte Whittington made the 2018 Invictus Games his next target.
Making the Australian team as a swimmer and runner earlier this year, Pte Whittington – who now works as a physical training instructor at Kapooka – joined past and serving wounded, injured and sick servicemen in Sydney for the televised sporting competition.
“It was an amazing experience … just having randoms coming up to you … wanting photos and autographs and sort of treating you like a rock star,” Pte Whittington said. “It was really humbling.”
The army private won his 50-metre freestyle heat to reach Wednesday's finals, where his relay team claimed gold.
But Pte Whittington said the whole experience was about more than winning; it was about the mental and physical barriers competitors have overcome.
He said standing at the pool’s starting line, before a stadium of 7000 to 9000 people had been nerve-wracking but “amazing”.
“I was peaking,” he said. “To be there on there on those blocks, it was nerve-wracking … but when you’re in the water … no one wants to get beaten by a Pommy."
The 25-year-old said he returned home with mixed feelings, after a hamstring injury in his first track and field event on Thursday. Despite the disappointment of not meeting his potential in the following races, he said being at the games was a win in itself.
Pte Whittington said he was already looking ahead to the next Invictus Games in 2020, where he would focus on one sport instead of two.