Invictus Games opens in spectacular fashion in London

Prince Harry today welcomed the team captains of the 13 nations taking part in the Invictus Games to London. The international sports event for ‘wounded warriors’, presented by Jaguar Land Rover, is just days away with limited last-minute tickets available at www.invictusgames.org

Teams from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA arrived in the Capital this weekend. They received a guard of honour from some of the 130-strong British Armed Forces team at their central London hotel before the Team Captains kept a Royal appointment this morning. Prince Harry set aside his home support to wish them and their teams the best of luck.

Extending the welcome on behalf of the home nation was British Armed Forces Team Captain Dave Henson. The 29-year-old former Royal Engineers Captain from Southampton was clearing a compound in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011 when he stood on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and lost both legs at the knee. On Thursday he goes for Gold in the 100m and 200m at Lee Valley Athletics Centre before taking his place on the Sitting Volleyball Court in the Copper Box Arena, at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP), on Sunday.

Dave Henson, who shares a 30th birthday with Prince Harry the day after the Closing Concert, says: “There’s a whole international community of ‘brothers in arms’ who refuse to be beaten by their injuries and we want to show people what we can do. The unique thing about the Invictus Games is that we’ve got guys and girls from 13 nations doing just that and it’s great they’re now here and ready to go. There are some familiar faces but most of us are meeting for the first time. There’s already been some friendly banter; the competition is well and truly on!”

Henson’s US counterpart is Sergeant Major Chris Self. The 47-year-old from Clarksville, Tennessee was serving with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Baghdad on his third tour of Iraq when, three days after Christmas 2005, he was shot in both legs. Nerve damage caused the loss of function of his right foot and he later chose to have his lower leg amputated. He returned to active duty and made a further two tours of Iraq before retiring in 2013 after a 27-year Army career. He hopes to kick-start a US medal-haul when he competes in the 1500m at Lee Valley Athletics Centre on Thursday ahead of Road Cycling at the Lee Valley VeloPark on QEOP this Saturday.

Sergeant Major Chris Self, Captain of the US Armed Forces team, says: “Prince Harry has been the driving force behind this so it was awesome to meet him today. He wished us all the best of luck, so I hope he doesn’t mind too much when we take plenty of medals back with us! There’s a real buzz now; it’s great to finally be here in this amazing city and to weigh-up the competition. We can’t wait for the chance to take on the Brits and others on the global stage that hosted the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The US is one of the home nation’s biggest rivals. Not only do they too have 100+ competitors in action but it was during a visit last year to the ‘Warrior Games’, a domestic event on a Colorado military compound, that Prince Harry decided to bring the concept of a sports contest for wounded, injured and sick Service personnel to the UK. The Army Captain has since teased he “stole the idea from the Americans” and is doing it “bigger and better”.

In a video message to international competitors (http://bit.ly/1ofaTaN) Prince Harry said: “I’d like to extend the warmest welcome to all competitors taking part in the Invictus Games who have now arrived in London. I know how hard you’ve been working over the last few months and the British public – indeed the world – can’t wait to see you compete in just a few days time in our nation’s capital city. To anyone else still thinking about buying tickets to the Games – don’t hesitate. It’s going to be an inspirational event and you won’t want to miss out.”

Launched by Prince Harry in March, the Invictus Games will use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect of those who serve their country. Over 400 wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and women, serving and veteran, will compete in nine adaptive sports. Others who met Prince Harry at the rooftop reception on Official Supporter PwC’s Embankment building this morning included the New Zealand-born Captain of the Australian Armed Forces team and the Chelsea-supporter from Tallin who leads the Estonian Defence Forces team.

The Invictus Games are being organised with the support and backing of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and the Ministry of Defence. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Lee Valley Athletics Centre will host the events thanks to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, DCMS and Sport England.

There’s a whole international community of ‘brothers in arms’ who refuse to be beaten by their injuries and we want to show people what we can do. The unique thing about the Invictus Games is that we’ve got guys and girls from 13 nations doing just that and it’s great they’re now here and ready to go. There are some familiar faces but most of us are meeting for the first time. There’s already been some friendly banter; the competition is well and truly on.

Dave Henson

Other international Team Captains meeting Prince Harry included:

New Zealand-born Captain of the Australian Armed Forces team, Sapper Curtis McGrath. The 25-year-old from the South Island spent time either side of the Tasman Sea as a child before making the move to Brisbane to become a Combat Engineer. He was on leave at the 2011 Rugby world Cup when he got the call telling him he was going to Afghanistan. There, clearing an unoccupied police checkpoint in the north area of Uruzgan, he stepped on an IED and lost both legs. After eight days in intensive care in Germany and two and a half months in Royal Brisbane Hospital he got his prosthetic legs, promising himself he would learn to use them before his section returned just one week later; he was standing to meet them off the plane. “We all need the exposure to challenges in life because that is how we learn to overcome adversity and rise to the occasion,” he says.

Chelsea fan Corporal Tarmo Lepik, Captain of the Estonian Defence Forces team. The 27-year-old from Tallinn was injured by an IED in 2011 while on patrol in Helmand Province. He spent time in Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre near Leatherhead in Surrey, during his rehabilitation before returning to service with the Estonian Defence Forces. He swims at least three times a week and says the chance to compete in the iconic London Aquatics Centre next Sunday is a dream come true.

Maurice Lindegaard Manuel, Captain of the Danish Armed Forces team. In 2010 the 37-year-old from Glostrup was on his sixth deployment and serving as an interpreter and cultural effects advisor for the Danish Battalion alongside the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province when he stepped on an IED. His right lower leg was amputated in 2011 as a result of his injuries. A member of the Danish national Wheelchair Basketball team, he will lead his team out at the Copper Box Arena next Saturday. “The Invictus Games is an experience and opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime,” he says.

Lieutenant Colonel Gianfranco Paglia, Captain of the Italian Armed Forces team. In 1993 the pilot trainee-turned paratrooper was in Somalia on his first tour overseas when he was one of 22 men wounded in an incident which claimed the lives of three of his unit. “Each one of us has already won a major battle, because we are still alive,” he says. “London (the Invictus Games) is a challenge; the importance lies in being able to fight for something and I reckon we’re all extremely good at this.” He will compete in Cycling, Powerlifting, Indoor Rowing, Wheelchair Rugby and Swimming.

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