Invictus Games: Healing and Competing for Active-Duty Soldiers and Veterans

There is no greater sacrifice people can offer than to be willing to lay down their lives for their country.

That’s why we find various ways to honor our active-duty and veteran armed services members. Sometimes it’s with a medal or a special commendation. And sometimes it’s with a parade.

And thanks to Prince Harry of the United Kingdom, it’s also now by supporting wounded, injured or ill armed services members as they compete in sports.

That is the idea behind the Invictus Games, which Prince Harry launched in London in 2014.

The second Games were held in Orlando, Florida in 2016. The third edition was in late September 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

“Invictus” is Latin for “Unconquered”

The Invictus games were inspired by the Warrior Games, a similar event held in the United States.

Prince Harry chose the name ‘Invictus’ because it means “unconquered” or “undefeated.”

He felt the name embodies the fighting spirit of the wounded, ill and injured service personnel. And what these tenacious men and women can achieve post-injury.

These Games transform empathy into empowerment. The participants are people that have sustained life changing injuries, and have proven that they cannot be defeated.

They get a sense of belonging and encouragement from the event. For some of them, it’s a way of gaining control in their lives again.

These Games shine a spotlight on the sacrifices these men and women have made for their country, and highlight their incredible drive to overcome.

Toronto the Stage for 550-Plus Athletes

More than 550 competitors from 17 nations participated in the 2017 Games. Many of the competitions took place in the Air Canada Centre.

Approximately 75,000 people attended the week-long Games featuring 12 sports. Well over 600 accredited media covered it. More than 1,400 volunteers worked roughly 80,000 hours to pull off this huge event.

Musicians performed during the closing ceremonies. Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson and Bryan Adams were among the list performing.

Prince Harry Turns Spotlight on Our Heroes

“Time and time again, competitors from around the world tell me that sport has saved them,” Prince Harry said.

“That the Invictus Games have given them a new lease on life. And that to represent their country again with fellow comrades is something they could only have dreamt of while lying in a hospital.”

Prince Harry is not a figurehead when it comes to the military. He was a member of the British Army from 2005 to 2015, serving in Afghanistan among other locations.

Even before the opening ceremonies began, the 2017 Invictus Games sparked worldwide interest. The torch relay traveled 4,350 miles and featured over 1,000 torchbearers. The relay made stops at all 32 Canadian forces bases, as well as neighboring communities.

A Lifelong Commitment to Sacrifice

Many touching stories came out of the 2017 Invictus Games. One competitor gave up his hard-earned gold medal to the family of a fallen comrade.

Some of the athletes helped fellow competitors cross the finish line when they were too weak to do so on their own.

Proud children ran up to parents who were being honored on a podium after earning a medal.

One after another, athletes shared and demonstrated heartfelt stories of recovery. They proved that active-duty soldiers and veterans are not defined by their injuries. But rather by their sacrifice and resilience.

Disabled Marine Earns Five Gold Medals

American Marine Corps veteran Sarah Rudder provided one of many inspirational stories for the Invictus Games.

She injured her left ankle during a search-and-rescue operation at the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks. Thirteen years later, her lower left leg was amputated.

Fellow Marine veterans encouraged her to start competing in sports. She qualified for the 2016 Invictus Games U.S. team, but it was in 2017 when she excelled.

Rudder won five gold medals. They came in the discus, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, shot put and one-minute rowing. She established a personal best in each category. She also earned a silver medal in the four-minute rowing competition. Plus a bronze medal as a member of the seated volleyball team.

“I just wanted to do better than last year,” she said. “I wanted to show that I was improving.

“For us, it’s healing. We’re proving to not only others, but to ourselves that we can continue to fight. We had to adapt and we overcame.”

U.S. Excels in 17-Nation Field

Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Ukraine the United Kingdom and the United States were the participating nations in the 2017 Invictus Games.

Before the Games started, First Lady Melania Trump addressed the U.S. athletes. She said, “On behalf of my husband and our entire country, I want to thank you and your families for all you have sacrificed to keep us safe.

“Take that fighting spirit that I know you have and bring home the gold.”

They must have been listening. The Games were not foremost about winning. But the U.S. led the way with 134 medals, followed by the U.K. with 88 and Australia with 52.

“You Are Invictus”

The athletes competed in archery, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, indoor rowing, powerlifting, wheelchair rugby, golf, road cycling, sledge hockey, and track and field events.

Prince Harry summed up the spirit of the event by saying to the athletes, “Right now you’re on a high. At the summit of a mountain many of you thought was too high to climb.

“You have done it. This is the moment, right here, right now, shoulder to shoulder. You are Invictus.”

Bringing Like-Minded People Together

One of the participating athletes, Bibi Saleema Hakim, made this comment about the Games on social media:

“The Games brought together men and women from across the world and even here at home in Toronto to support the men and women who have served their countries and the families who have continuously loved and supported them.”

“To watch the strength and to see their passion and drive to recovery was heartwarming and incredible. Thank you to every competitor for sharing your strength with us! Nothing but respect and love to you all! Prince Harry was right; please continue your journey to recovery.” – Bibi Saleema Hakim

The 2018 Invictus Games will be held October 18-29 in Sydney, Australia.

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