Three years ago, Ben Farinazzo was learning to walk again.
Now, the Queanbeyan man is an Invictus Games gold medallist after battling post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and a broken back and neck on his journey to glory.
Remarkable physical strength helped the former Australian Army officer to two gold medals in indoor rowing and a personal best in powerlifting, but his mental strength is the real story of his success at the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for veterans and active defence personnel.
Mr Farinazzo's journey to the Games started with his deployment to East Timor in the late 1990s, something he regards as a highlight of his career because of the deep emotional connection he forged with the locals.
But his service, which included helping with the recovery effort after the Suai church massacre that claimed up to 200 lives, left him with emotional scars.
"I really lost the ability to look after my own health," Mr Farinazzo told the Sunday Canberra Times.
"I was totally overwhelmed by life."
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but initially treated it "like a broken arm", believing time would heal his wounds.
That approach culminated in Mr Farinazzo spending about a year in hospital.
He decided to use sport as a way to get back on top of his physical and mental health, but three years ago, fell off his mountain bike and broke his neck and back in five places.
"All I remember is lying there, still, staring up at the ceiling [in hospital] because I couldn't move and just wanting to return to life," Mr Farinazzo said.
In hospital, he not only learned to walk again, but came to an important realisation.
"You can be soft and hard," Mr Farinazzo said.
"You can be strong, but you can still be gentle and get that balance right.
"It's impossible to cut off some emotions, because if you try to shut out anger and hate, that also impacts on love and compassion."
Entering the Invictus Games with the goal of achieving personal bests in each of his events, Mr Farinazzo exceeded his expectations by taking home gold in the four-minute endurance and one-minute sprint indoor rowing events.
He competed in front of 40 family and friends who had travelled from around Australia to watch.
"I didn't know they were all coming," the 44-year-old said.
"I had to be careful not to look into the crowd before the events because I could feel the tears welling up and I had a job to do."
Receiving his gold medals was a highlight, but for Mr Farinazzo, nothing compares to the moment he approached the crowd after his victories to hug his supporters, including his wife Jodie and his children Keely, Tom and Max.
"They saved my life," Mr Farinazzo said, choking back tears.
"Every time I needed help, they were there. To be able to celebrate with them is just unbelievable."
Mr Farinazzo was one of seven UNSW Canberra graduates to compete at the Invictus Games, with the group winning a combined 10 medals.
In addition to Mr Farinazzo's two gold medals, Nathan Parker won three gold and two silver medals in athletics and indoor rowing.
Rob Saunders picked up a sailing gold, Nicki Bradley collected silver in powerlifting and Scott Reynolds took home silver in the Jaguar Land Rover Driving Challenge.