Invictus Games competition kicks off in Toronto

Air Force Capt. Christy Wise, U.S. team captain, carries the American flag as her team enters the opening ceremony for the 2017 Invictus Games at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Saturday. At right is team co-captain Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg, DOD.

Air Force Capt. Christy Wise, U.S. team captain, carries the American flag as her team enters the opening ceremony for the 2017 Invictus Games at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Saturday. At right is team co-captain Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg, DOD.

By Shannon Collins, DOD News, Defense Media Activity:

(El Paso, Texas, Sept. 28, 2017)

TORONTO – Competitors, celebrities, royalty and spectators came together to kick off the 2017 Invictus Games at the sold-out Air Canada Centre here Saturday.

Inspired by the Department of Defense Warrior Games, an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, Britain’s Prince Harry created the Invictus Games in 2014.

U.S. Army veteran Kelly Elmlinger races a wheelchair during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sunday. Photos by EJ Hersom, DOD.

The prince, who was on hand at the opening ceremony, flew Apache helicopters in Afghanistan during his military service.

“Invictus is all about the dedication of the men and women who served their countries, confronted hardship and refused to be defined by their injuries,” he said last night. “Invictus is about the families and friends who face the shock of learning that their loved ones have been injured or fallen ill and then rally to support them on their journey to recovery. Above all, Invictus is about the example to the world that all service men and women, injured or not, providing the importance of service and duty.

“We made a great start in London in 2014,” he continued. “We took it to the next level in Orlando last year, and over the next week, in this year, as we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, Toronto is going to put on a games that draws the attention of the world.”

Steve Cokayne of Team Great Britain throws the shot put during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sunday.

More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from 17 nations will compete in 12 sporting events at the Invictus Games, including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball. The games run through Saturday.

“(There are) more competitors, more sports, more nations, more friends, more families and more people watching at home than ever before,” Harry said. “With the people in this arena tonight and those watching across Canada and around the world, we have the biggest crowd Invictus has ever enjoyed. In the days ahead, I know that many of you will be experiencing Invictus for the first time. I hope you’re ready for some fierce competition. I hope you’re ready to see the meaning of teamwork that proves that anything is possible when we work together. I hope you’re ready to see courage and determination that will inspire you to power through the challenges in your own life. I hope you’re ready to see role models in action that any parent would want their children to look up to. And I hope you’re ready to see lives change in front of your eyes.”

Camaraderie among athletes

Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears, co-captain of the U.S. team, said he thinks his squad will be strongest in rugby, track and field, volleyball, wheelchair basketball and swimming. The camaraderie among the athletes from the respective service branches and other countries has been good, he added.

“I visited with someone from the Netherlands for about 20 minutes this morning,” said Sears, who said his favorite sport is wheelchair racing on the track. “Everybody’s getting along, laughing and having a smile on their face.”

His mother, Judy Pullin, said she is proud of her son and his team.

“I’m very proud of Ivan. I’m going to be the bragging momma here. He medaled four times here last year. He medaled four golds, and it was just amazing. I was definitely crying,” she said. “These are all athletes. Yes, they may have a disability. They may have something physical or an invisible wound, but you’ve just got to be proud of them.”

Medically retired Cpl. Melanie Harris of the Canadian armed forces, competing in compound archery and sitting volleyball, joked that the Canadian motto is “I’m not sorry.”

“Canadians are known for being sorry but not sorry; however, I want them to know they’re always welcome back here,” she said with a laugh. Harris said Canada’s wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball will be among the Canadian team’s best events.

“It’s going to be a great competition,” she said. “We’re going to do great. We will bring some gold home.”

Harris said her teammates have been taking care of each other and are like family. “We’re all there for each other,” she added.

Medically retired Lance Cpl. Dennis Resell of Denmark’s special operations forces is competing in archery and sitting volleyball. He said he has confidence in his team as well. “We’re going to do great. You can’t beat the Vikings,” he said. “Team Denmark’s biggest strengths are definitely our team spirit and our brotherhood.”

Resell said he enjoys the camaraderie among the athletes and had been looking forward to the opening ceremony. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “Walking in there, people cheering – it’s going to be great.”