We were lucky enough to chat with some of the incredible 2016 Invictus Games athletes ahead of the games held in Orlando, Florida from 8 to 12 May.
“Invictus” means “unconquered”. It embodies the fighting spirit of the wounded, injured and ill serving and former serving members of the Defence Force, and what these tenacious men and women achieve. The Invictus Games are the brainchild of Prince Harry and use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and to generate a wider understanding and respect for these courageous men and women.
Here, we shine the spotlight on the three members of the Australian team and find out exactly what it takes to be an Invictus Games competitor.
“I’m Craig McGrath, 43yrs old, from Springwood NSW and this is my first ever Invictus Games competing in Archery and Cycling. I joined the Defence Force when I was 21 so I’ve pretty much spent half of my life dedicated to my career. I am father to two young boys, a husband and in 2012 I was deployed to Afghanistan. I was involved in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast in Afghanistan. Physically, I was in a bad way, with everything from multiple fragmentation injuries and broken bones to head injuries and muscular damage, I even lost part of one of my fingers. It’s been a challenge to find the new me in both physical capacity and mental strength. I’ve always been fit and healthy and enjoyed sport, especially with the kids, so the decision to take part in the Invictus Games was an easy one. The Invictus community is amazing; it feels great to be part of a high performing team once again. I’m just really enjoying the ride at the moment.
Craig meeting Prince Harry after competing the Jaguar Land Rover driving challenge, with team mate Jamie Tanner.
“My name is Darlene and I served in the Navy for six years and the Army for just over a year. I’ve always enjoyed cycling as a sport and I’m really excited to be competing in this year’s Invictus Games. I was actually required to choose three sports in order to compete and at 45, to pick up a few more was both exciting and a challenge. I’m now also participating in Archery, Power Lifting and Wheelchair Basketball – a big thank you to my local community who have helped me to practice. Mates4Mates was where my journey really began, it’s crazy to think I only joined to rebuild some social skills and get myself fit again – a few months later I was selected to take part in a 500km bike ride through France! At the time, it felt like emotional, physical and social suicide but I had committed to the challenge so had to see it through. Well, that was just over a year ago and I can honestly say I’ve never looked back, this ride changed me and gave me the confidence to apply for Invictus. I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and as a result I had completely isolated myself from people and social activities, it was a miserable existence defined by the loneliness I experienced on a daily basis. I became fearful and resisted trying anything new. The Invictus Games have encouraged me to completely reinvent myself, I feel like anything is possible, there are no limits to what we as a team can achieve. I attribute my change in attitude to sport – it not only keeps me physically and mentally fit but enables me to inspire other veterans to live the best life they possibly can. The training has been incredibly challenging with daily coaching sessions and workouts across archery, cycling, gym, swimming, psychology, and wheelchair basketball! My husband has been a great support but I’m sure he’ll secretly be thrilled when the competition is over so that we can share the load of the household activities! I’m really honoured to take part in such a momentous event and feel like the best is yet to come. My journey to the Invictus Games has taught me that it really doesn’t matter where you are in your road to recovery, you can still achieve your dreams. Life itself is a continuous journey and you are not defined by your injuries.
Congratulations to Darlene, wining silver in lightweight power lifting.
“I’m Wade and I’m proud to be involved in my first ever Invictus Games experience. I’m looking forward to competing in the Cycling, Indoor Rowing, Seated Volleyball and Track events. I am currently serving in the Airforce as an Airforce Technician whilst training for the Games. For me, the competition has been a huge part of my rehabilitation following my battle with Stage IV bowel cancer. My involvement in the Invictus Games 2016 has given me the chance to return back to normal life after treatment. It was actually my rehabilitation officer who first introduced me to the Invictus Games, I asked how to get involved one day and now I’m actually competing! I’ve always enjoyed sport but this is a completely new level for me, it’s not only been a fantastic rehabilitation aid but has also enabled me to meet lots of new people, which is always great. My wife has also been working out with me in the gym and road riding so it’s a real motivator, it’s also helped us to rebuild our lives together and enjoy life as a normal couple again. The best thing is taking away real life lessons, whether it is self-development or understanding others endeavours, it’s humbling to be part of such a wonderful team.
Wade as part of the wheelchair basketball team.