Unconquered: Invictus Games Head Down Under
October 2018 sees the Invictus Games hit Sydney, presenting an incredible platform for wounded, injured and ill service personnel and veterans to demonstrate the healing power of sport on the world stage.
Even if you haven’t previously been aware of the Invictus Games, in recent months you can’t help but have noticed an increasingly loud drumroll as momentum builds to this international adaptive sporting event being hosted in Sydney this October.
So what is the Invictus Games? Founded by HRH The Duke of Sussex (aka, Prince Harry) in 2014, the Invictus Games is an international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and ill service men and women, both active duty and veteran. The Games use the healing power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and celebrate the crucial role played by family and friends.
Speaking about the event’s inception, Invictus Games Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dominic Reid said: ‘There were two things that were instrumental in Prince Harry’s thinking. One was his flight back out of Afghanistan when he was deployed there. He came back on the plane with three guys who were in induced comas and one guy who was in a coffin. I think that was a significant moment for him. The Prince’s inspiration for Invictus came from having attended the American Warrior Games in the US in the summer of 2013, yet Prince Harry wanted to make it bigger – he wanted it to be more international.
‘I was approached by Prince Harry’s former private secretary. We only really had nine months to put the Games together, which is a ludicrously short amount of time. At this stage, we had no branding or funding.’
‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’ in Latin and embodies the fighting spirit of the competitors. Inspiration was drawn from William Ernest Henley’s poem ‘Invictus’ which shares the message of remaining unbowed in the face of adversity. Henley himself was an amputee, so it’s a description of the dark place that he was in and how he fought through.
Under the chairmanship of Sir Keith Mills, who had just delivered the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and with the backing of the Mayor of London and the Ministry of Defence, and initial funding from the Royal Foundation, the Games were at the starting blocks.
The inaugural Invictus Games saw more thzxan 400 competitors from 13 nations participate across nine adaptive sports. Team sports included sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. Individual sports included indoor rowing, road cycling and archery. Interestingly, many competitors wanted to participate in multiple sports and because there is no limit to how many sports a competitor can enter (provided there’s no timetable clash), that’s exactly what many of them did.
The Games were initially intended to be a standalone event but the impact on the competitors and their loved ones was far greater than could ever have been hoped for. The organisers knew this couldn’t be a one-off event and so established the Invictus Games Foundation to select the hosts of future Games, oversee their delivery and ensure that hundreds more men and women around the world who are still on their recovery pathway could take part in a future Invictus Games. As HRH The Duke of Sussex explained after the Games in London: 'For every competitor last September, there are hundreds of others around the world who would benefit from having the same opportunity.' Since Invictus Games London 2014, there have been Invictus Games in Orlando in 2016 and Toronto in 2017.
Reflecting on the first Games, Reid said: ‘I think everyone came to it in 2014 thinking it would be quite a good Games; nobody expected the colossal event that it ended up being. It had a profound effect on people. They really took it to their hearts.’
Yet there were initial concerns regarding the quality of sport that was due to be played, as Reid recalled: ‘The problem if you’re doing a major sporting event is: is it going to make for compelling viewing? And we really didn’t know. In the end, it was amazing – often the athletes coming in last got the biggest cheer. The Copper Box absolutely rocked on the night – the volume was actually recorded louder than at the London Olympic Games.’
Reid was keen to highlight to his team just how poignant these moments spent with the competitors can be; ‘I told my team that there are going to be things that will hit them. I said give yourself some time to have a good cry. A lot of people did come up to me at the end and thanked me for saying that, it almost gave them permission to do it.’
Everyone has their own moment, and for Reid it was an email he received back in 2014: ‘The email was from a woman who married an American; he had been injured in combat. She wrote to thank Prince Harry and us – she thanked us for having seen her husband smile for the first time since coming back from Afghanistan. That happened to be my trigger, but everyone has their own.’
For British 2014 Invictus Games competitor Craig Winspear, his journey in the Armed Forces began in 2008, one day after his 26th birthday. He served for almost eight years before being medically discharged due to his injuries. His role in Afghanistan was ‘advanced searcher’ and ‘lead searcher’, whereby he would be sent out to search and neutralise the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In 2011 he woke up in a hospital bed to find both of his legs amputated.
‘It took me a while to know what was actually real and what wasn’t after waking up from being injured’ Winspear recalled; ‘I was heavily sedated for five to six days – I was in and out, and my mind was playing tricks. I remember finding numerous IEDs before the one I hit. I remember how hot it was and the smell. When I was hit, I remember lying in the thick long grass trying to shout out, but nothing came out of my mouth; I thought that was it for me.
Winspear heard about a new competition that Prince Harry was hosting in London in 2014 called the Invictus Games, and thought he would give it a try. Despite never having played basketball prior to his injury, he made the wheelchair basketball reserve team in 2014. The atmosphere of that first event, and the determination of the competitors, inspired him to push himself even harder and in 2016 he made the wheelchair basketball team, with whom he won silver at the Orlando Games.
Prior to discovering the Games, Winspear was in a rut, spending most of his time on the sofa. These days he trains for an hour on the court most days and does strength and conditioning work in the gym three days a week: ‘It’s given me back the feeling of being proud when I am in my basketball chair, wearing the Invictus Games kit. I don’t let my disability deter me from being active and playing sports.’
Game on Down Under
The fourth Invictus Games will be held in Sydney from 20-27 October 2018 and will see 500 competitors from 18 nations compete in 11 adaptive sports. An estimated 1,000 family members and friends will accompany the competitors with all being supported by over 1,000 volunteers.
Events will be staged across Greater Sydney, including Sydney Olympic Park and in and around Sydney Harbour.
This is an especially significant year as 2018 marks a century since the end of World War I. The past four years have seen a number of events commemorating the centenary of the ANZACs and as this period draws to a close the Invictus Games will shine a spotlight on the community that survives – our current service personnel, our veterans and their families and friends.
Invictus Games Sydney 2018 will provide an opportunity to have a long-term impact through the development and support of programs and services in the areas of education, health and wellbeing, employment and adaptive sport.
This year, Australia will field a team of 72 competitors, including Garry Robinson who will be competing in archery and road cycling. A former Special Forces Commander, Garry was medically discharged in 2016 after 22 years of service including tours to Afghanistan and East Timor.
A Blackhawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2010 saw Robinson sustain a severe traumatic brain injury, heavy internal bleeding and multiple bone fractures, including his lower spine, sacrum, eight ribs, both shoulder blades and left leg, which was later amputated below the knee. He was placed in an induced coma for four weeks while his body healed and spent two years in hospital rehabilitating from the brain injury.
Participation in sport has been a big part of Robinson’s rehabilitation, especially since competing in the first Invictus Games. He returned home wanting to compete more and with a renewed sense of purpose.
'My abilities have changed over the years and, through sport, I have found ways to adapt so that I can stay involved and active' said Robinson.
Show your support!
The fourth Invictus Games will be held in Sydney from 20-27 October 2018. Why not grab some tickets today to support the wounded warriors and provide an inspirational experience for a group of clients and colleagues? Tickets start from $15, with group rates available, at invictusgames2018.org
This feature contains some content courtesy of fitpro as well as material from by The Invictus Games Foundation and The Department of Defence.