From the battleground to the basketball courts, veterans are constantly armed with determination, and this year nearly five hundred members of the armed services have been able to display that determination at the 2016 Invictus Games. Created by Prince Harry of Wales, the Invictus Games are a multi-sport Paralympic-style event for sick, wounded, or injured members of the armed services to participate in. The name is derived from the Latin word invictus, meaning “unconquered.” The Games originated in 2014 at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where three hundred competitors from over thirteen countries participated. After their success and profound impact across the pond, Harry decided to bring the Games to America, and after almost a year of planning, they finally arrived to Orlando, Florida at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on May 8.
The Invictus Games kicked off with an emotional opening ceremony beginning with each of the fourteen participating countries’ teams marching into the stadium wearing their nation’s colors while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of over 10,000. After performances from the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, soprano Laura Wright, and British singer James Blunt, the stage was taken by Michelle Obama, Prince Harry, and world-renowned actor Morgan Freeman to deliver speeches to honor the participating veterans and all their sacrifices. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to have the second Invictus Games open in America,” Harry said. “I’m a long way from London tonight, but when I look out, I see so many familiar faces, servicemen and women, their friends and their families and all of the people who got them here. I feel like I’m at home.”
Harry used his opening speech as an opportunity to bring awareness to the Invisible Wounds of Warfare. During his 2014 Invictus Games, his primary focus was getting rid of the stigma surrounding physical injuries of war, and this year, with the help of George W. Bush, he wanted to do the same for mental illnesses of war. “When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let’s also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn’t leave his house,” said the prince. “Let’s cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress, and let’s celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression.”
The Games ensued from May 8 to May 12. Over the course of the five days, athletes participated in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, sitting volleyball, swimming, powerlifting, road cycling, indoor rowing, and track and field matches. Memorable winners include American gold-medalist in swimming Elizabeth Marks, who gave her medal to the UK hospital that saved her life when her lung collapsed, and rowing medalist U.S. Marine Sarah Rudder, who was left without a leg after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After the five days of excitement and inspiration were over, the Games were closed with a ceremony where Harry expressed his pride in all the participants. “You are all Invictus. You are now ambassadors for the spirit of these games. Spread the word. Never stop fighting. And do all you can to lift up everyone around you.” The 2016 Games may be over, but they will return next year in September in Toronto, Canada for another week of inspiration, determination, and invictus spirits.