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Know it all - why the Invictus Games are important

The 110 hero sportspeople who will make up the 2016 British team at this year’s Invictus Games have been revealed by Prince Harry.

The event is the brainchild of Harry and so it was only fitting that he joined the Great Britain team for a photoshoot at London’s Wellington Barracks ahead of the second ever Invictus Games tournament.

The British team will compete against athletes and sportsmen and women from 15 countries in Orlando, Florida. The event, held between May 8 and 12, will feature ten sports including swimming, cycling, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball.

The Invictus Games is the world’s only international sporting meeting for ill, wounded and injured veterans and active duty service members.


The 2016 team

At the head of this year’s team is David Wiseman, a former army captain from Yorkshire who suffered shooting injuries to his chest in Afghanistan during 2009. The 33-year-old will row and swim at the games and says he is passionate about the use of sport as an aid to recovery.

David believes the Invictus Games is ‘the pinnacle’, demonstrating the way in which athletes can ‘achieve the extraordinary’ by using sport to move on from injury.

He adds that the competition involved in the Invictus Games tournament is more valuable than the medals that can be won and says that he can’t wait for the adrenaline rush and ‘indescribable’ feeling he knows he will experience at the games.

Another rower and swimmer is Cowan Botha, who was discharged from the Royal Dragoon Guards last November and won a bronze medal during the rowing events at the first ever games.

The 30-year-old had to have pelvis reconstruction and multiple operations after suffering an injury just before his third tour of Afghanistan. He was forced to leave the military because he couldn’t regain his fitness levels but says the Invictus Games is a ‘good consolation’ for some of the issues he has had, and continues to face.

The event, he says, brings together people who have shared similar experiences and allows former military personal who have suffered injuries to get ‘back to' themselves.

Another 30-year-old, Mark Lloyd from Cardiff, suffered injuries to his back in Afghanistan but says the event has given him the chance to represent his country once again and compete in an environment where no one feels at a disadvantage.

Fellow Cardiff man Michael Matthews, who will take part in wheelchair rugby and cycling events, says he experienced some ‘dark’ times after his back was fractured by a bomb in Afghanistan, but says that speaking to other sportspeople in similar situations and taking part in sports has really helped with his recovery.

There is no doubt that Welshman Michael, like many of the other members of the Invictus teams, relishes the opportunity to compete under his nation’s flag once again and experience the elation when, in his own words, the ‘pride of uniform’ takes over.


Multiple benefits to be won

It is clear to see the many benefits that can be gained by the sportspeople who take part in the Invictus Games, such as former RAF medic Anna Pollock, who used the goal of achieving a place in the team to spur her on whilst recovering from an injury to her spine.

Whilst undoubtedly a sporting showcase, the tournament offers so much more than medals to those taking part. The benefits extend much further than the purely physical, as described by many of the men and women taking part this year.

Whether part of a team or striving to win a place, the games can prove instrumental to recovery and allow sportspeople to begin regaining their confidence and self-esteem, whilst interacting with like-minded people who truly understand the challenges and hurdles they must overcome.

Scott Meenagh was a member of the Parachute Regiment when he stepped on an explosive device in Afghanistan and lost both of his lower legs. The 26-year-old from Glasgow, who will row at this year’s tournament, points out that many people who have suffered life-changing injuries cannot qualify to compete in the Paralympic Games but Invictus offers them ‘a stage’ and the chance to achieve their personal best whilst enjoying the ‘immense pride’ of representing their country.

Former Irish Guard Lamin Manneh, 39, adds that the Invictus Games can spur people on to get on with their lives even after suffering devastating injuries. Lamin, who will take part in discus, shotput, archery and rowing events this year, says that Invictus gives former military personal the chance to show off what they can do and proves that what has happened in the past does not have to hold them back.

Prince Harry himself claims that the tournament showcases ‘the ‘Invictus spirit’ and servicemen and women’s ‘unconquerable character’.


Invictus; the history and future

The Invictus Games was first held in London in 2014 with the aim of using sport’s power to support rehabilitation, inspire recovery, and foster a greater respect and understanding for sick and injured service women and men.

The Invictus Games Foundation was set up to build-on the legacy of the inaugural games and to ensure the future of the event. The 2016 event may not have even started at Orlando’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex but the third games has already been scheduled for September 2017 in Toronto, Canada.

It is common knowledge that Prince Harry and everyone involved in the 2014 Games wanted other countries and cities to take on the challenge and allow the Invictus story to continue. This has happened and the inaugural games is now viewed as a ‘blueprint’ to be used in the inspiration of countless more ‘wounded warriors’ as they embark on, or continue, their recovery.

The Invictus organisers believe that for every one competitor who took part in the Invictus Games of 2014, there are at least ten other people who would benefit from experiencing the same opportunity.

Organisers of the Toronto event are already predicting that the 2017 games will be the biggest yet as more nations and competitors take part in a wider range of sports.

Billed as a celebration of ‘remarkable wounded warriors’, along with their families, the Toronto Games aims to continue the demonstration of sport’s power when it comes to supporting recovery from injury and illness.

Prince Harry said that he always hoped that the London Games would be just the start of ‘the Invictus story’ and, after witnessing the huge benefits experienced by another raft of servicemen and women during the journey to Orlando, he is delighted that the legacy of Invictus will carry on when Toronto takes on the mantle in 2017.