SEPTEMBER 25, 2017, Toronto, ON – A popular definition of the term Invictus is simply ‘unconquered.’ On September 23, over 500 warrior-athletes from 17 nations, gathered in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to put the world on notice that their spirit has grown stronger through the adversity of combat and other service related injuries and illness. The day marked the opening ceremony of the 2017 Invictus Games, hosted by Canada.
In addition to the number of athletes and nations participating in the Invictus Games, over 550 members of the media were accredited to cover the events, and more than 1,800 volunteers are supporting the games. Honorable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, said these numbers don’t capture the personal stories and determination of the athletes. Rick Hansen, founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation (better known as Canada’s ‘Man in Motion’) said, “Invictus Games are an example of ability, not disability. Attitude is everything.”
The Paralympic-style games are the brainchild of Prince Harry of Wales. They were established in 2014 for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans around the world to compete in adaptive sports. While returning home from his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2008, Prince Harry had what some might call an epiphany that was the beginning of the Invictus Games. As he was waiting on a plane to fly home, the coffin of a Danish soldier was loaded on the aircraft by the soldier’s friends, as well as three British soldiers who were missing limbs. “The direction of my life changed forever,” said Prince Harry. “I knew that it was my responsibility to use the great platform that I have, to help the world understand and be inspired by the spirit of those who wear the uniform.”
As Canada celebrates its 150th year as a confederation, it was only fitting that it plays host to the 3rd annual iteration of the games. The importance of these warrior-athletes drew in a host of talented stars to launch the games. Trudeau took time out of his busy schedule to offer words of encouragement to the athletes and their families. “You’re not just here to inspire, you’re here to win,” he said.
Adaptive sports have motivated many of these warriors to persevere and overcome both visible and invisible injuries for themselves and for their countries. Actor Mike Myers is the ambassador for this year’s Invictus Games. Both of his parents were veterans of the British Armed Forces during World War II. “In my house, the number one lesson is those that served their country deserve the utmost respect and admiration,” said Myers.
As the athletes entered Air Canada Centre to take their seats, they smiled and laughed, cheered, waved and some were moved to tears. It was their opportunity to once again serve, proudly wearing the uniform colors of their country.
There was an obvious family theme to the ceremony. It highlighted the importance every family member is to the recovery of their service member. “I sit here proud to be a part of this program and see my wife (U.S. Army veteran Brandi Evans) be a part of this amazing ceremony,” said Todd Evans. “It has already been a wonderful experience to share in our hearts for the rest of the journey.”
“It is an awesome experience,” said Marcus Rudder, husband of Marine Corps veteran Sarah Rudder. Rudder said the opening ceremony at Air Canada Centre was overwhelming. “The staff and volunteers provided the utmost help and coordination. You can tell by the atmosphere that the Invictus games will be here to stay for years to come. Thank You!”
Opening ceremony seemed like Christmas in September. “Canada certainly knows how to throw a party,” said Lorrie Majors, mother of U.S. Army veteran Ryan Majors. “I’m overwhelmed and excited. They celebrated our wounded, ill and injured in style. I was beyond impressed.
Story by Robert Whetstone
U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition