A newly formed not-for-profit organisation called Veterans for Motorsport Australia Wide is dedicated to helping improve the lifestyle and mental health of young veterans through participation in world-class rally events.
Motorsport for Veterans vice-president Kerry Kelb said the idea originally came from two veterans who teamed up with a desire to get younger veterans involved in their community.
“It was started by two blokes,” Mr Kelb said. “Malcolm Wheat, former president of the Vietnam Veterans Federation in Queensland, and Kim Ewart, Vietnam veteran and owner and operator of Kim’s Motorsports.”
“[Kim] approached Malcolm, and said, ‘What do you think the RSL can do about getting some young veterans on board?’
“Malcolm said, ‘I’m not sure about the RSL, but we might be able to go to Mates4Mates’,” he said.
“[Malcolm and Kim] approached Mates4Mates, and through those guys and that chat, they did a two-year deal,” he said.
Mr Kelb said it was then that he got involved.
“I benefited from it, and I loved it. Malcolm and Kim just chatted us along,” he said.
“They’re now guiding us, and pulling the ropes, and keeping up the good work that they’re doing.
“Mates4Mates is our roots, it was through them that we got this opportunity to do something that we wanted to do,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Mr Kelb said that despite being only six months old, the team is gaining momentum.
“Currently we have over 10 members. We’re only six months old, so we’re recruiting more and more, but for a six month old club we’ve already got two cars at our disposal,” he said.
“The [Mitsubishi Lancer] and a Datsun Scarab, which is Kim’s Motorsports’.
“We hope to keep building the team and to keep participating in more races.”
“For the past two years through Mates4Mates, we did Targa Tasmania in 2016 and 2017, and it was that experience that gave us this idea,” he said.
The team will be racing in Targa North West and Targa Tasmania in 2018, and have applied to race in the Targa Great Barrier Reef in Queensland.
Mr Kelb said he has seen a “massive” improvement in veterans who have gotten involved.
“I’ve seen blokes who don’t do a lot, and who drink too much through their PTSD and other disorders,” Mr Kelb said.
“But, I’ve seen a few blokes who just want to become involved, engage with people and their community, and it’s really just changed their lives. Just through that – just through motorsport.
“That’s what our goal is: to engage the veteran community through motorsport,” Mr Kelb said
That’s what our goal is: to engage the veteran community through motorsport.Motorsport for Veterans vice-president Kerry Kelb
Being a veteran himself, Mr Kelb said that he can relate to these young veterans through his own experiences in integrating back into his life and his community.
“To start with you feel a little isolated and alone – you really do,” he said.
“Even with all of the other services … and for some of the younger veterans, it’s hard to connect with the RSL’s.”
Mr Kelb said that there are great services such as Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Services, Soldier On, and Mates4Mates, but that it can really help to do something “a little different”.
“It’s amazing to see the difference,” he said.
“They talk about AFL teams clicking, but you get veterans together and it’s just a different kind of click, it really is.
“At Targa, for example, we had blokes from the air force, the navy, and the army just come together.
“They’d never met, but the comeradere, the joking around – it’s just instant,” he said.
“I’ve really been enjoying it,” Mr Kelb said. “There’s just something about the whole concept of what we’re doing to try and re-engage our young veterans.”
One of the young veterans taking part in the Motorsport for Veterans team is James Nevin, who was made aware of the team from another veteran at the RSL who was taking part.
He said that motorsport was a “completely new” experience for him as he had never had a chance to participate before.
Despite this, he said that he wanted to give it a go.
“It’s been really good, especially being a younger veteran,” Mr Nevin said.
“Being around other people who have been through similar experiences has been really great,” he said.
“After coming back, it’s hard to get involved socially with other people,” he said. “Motorsport for Veterans really helps to get you back in the community.”
Mr Nevin said he would “definitely” recommend the team to any young veteran.
“I know how much people like myself struggle,” he said.
Janelle Nevin, though not a veteran herself, joined the team to support and spend some quality time with James.
“It’s a really good organisation for families, because it enables you to bond with your partner,” Ms Nevin said.
“It really gives you a common interest, and it helps you to maintain a healthy relationship,” she said.
For more information about Motorsport for Veterans Australia Wide, head online to their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/motorsportforveterans/.