Fireside Chat with Tom Birtwhistle and Simone Laity
Presented in collaboration with Melbourne Connect co-located partner SANE Australia, and facilitated by mental health consultant and executive coach Swagata Bapat, this event will be an up close and intimate conversation with Australian rowing Paralympian Tom Birtwhistle and Lendlease Precinct General Manager Simone Laity. Both will uncover their own personal stories and speak about coping mechanisms, resilience and how they manage challenges.
Tom Birtwhistle – Australian rowing Paralympian
Tom Birtwhistle graduated from Sydney’s St Joseph’s College in 2010, within 6 months of graduation he was cycling to rowing training and was struck by a car in the early hours of the morning. The outcome was a spinal injury leaving an impairment to his left hip, leg and sacral pelvis.
He returned to rowing in 2013 but, frustrated by injury, quit after the 2014 National Championships, focusing instead on his university studies, recovery, mental health and working career. Tom spent time with Gearoid Towey on ‘Life after sport’.
During lockdown in 2020, Tom hopped on his ergometer at home and, after the first few painful experiences from nerve pain and tolerance, the desire to row reappeared. He realised he missed the sport and, with the change to 2000m racing in Para-rowing and the lift in results from Australia, decided to give Para-rowing a solid go. Tom saw the lockdown and delay of the Games not as a constraint but as an advantage and his way in. Taking advantage of this, Tom built a solid base of training whilst working full time. Tom also studied his Chartered Accountancy during this time.
Tom returned to UTS in June 2020, where coaches Hally Chapman, Alex Field and Tim McLaren helped him get to where he is today. With a significant support and a kick up the butt, Tom began the long journey to gaining physical and mental fitness, flexibility and strength. Tom had significant hurdles to jump being classified in Australia, then having to race in Italy and classified again. It did not always look like Tom would meet the requirements as COVID ran rampant and travel in and out of Australia become the largest road block. Tom performed at NSW State Championships coming 2nd and the a national championship gold. Following the selection regatta Tom was named in the Team for the Tokyo Paralympics. Tom asked for time off from work to allow for the time to travel to Italy and back. Tom says he is extremely grateful for their support and openness. He is thankful also to his employer Lendlease for granting him leave to train and compete at a high performance level.
Away from sport, Tom is a big fan of F45, exercising in general and spending quality time with his fiancee Madeleine. Tom is thankful for all the people who have helped him get here today.
“Behind every great man is an even better woman”
Without my mother, fiancé, and aunties (who helped raise me) I wouldn’t be here today.
Simone Laity – Lendlease Precinct General Manager, Melbourne Connect
Simone has always been a champion of change, constantly challenging the norms, whilst promoting the advancement of technology, equality and best practice. Simone is a strong advocate for Human Rights, in 2008 she launched her first not for profit in the Middle East, and in 2010 through gentle, private diplomacy had law reforms implemented for women in the United Arab Emirates.
Simone managed an 18 year international career in Diplomacy, Development, Technology and Hospitality. Upon her return to Australia, she joined the Lendlease team in 2017, to be a part of a company that holds regeneration, sustainability and the development of innovation precincts as a core aspect of the company. Lendlease as a forward-facing company has not disappointed, and the multifaceted approach of the business not only creates great partnership precincts such as Melbourne Connect, but also creates a supported and balanced work environment.
Simone after a long battle lost her partner to cancer in 2018 and in 2019, survived a fatal car accident which has left her with High Functioning, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As part of recovery she does on average 25 hours a week of therapy, physiotherapy and mindfulness exercises, it’s like a part-time job. Being a part of a team of incredible people at Lendlease and University of Melbourne helps that recovery, it takes courage to be able to share with the team if days are tough, but the support and respect that comes back is outstanding, and knowing that the team is there helps more than colleagues and associates could ever know.
Simone is an advocate for awareness and change in the Mental Health sector, corporations and in community. Everyone has a mental story, approx. 50% of Australians pre-Covid had suffered a trauma, we need to get the statistics out there and if we can build some informed empathy and tools in our workplaces and community, then talking about mental health struggles will no longer be taboo, and people with mental health issues will be seen as valued members of the community.