Last week, the city was full of visitors from near and far. The beautiful and hot weather brought out all the people wishing to seek out the last of summer, but with many exciting events in town, the weather was only extra motivation. Some more high profile visitors who came to Toronto for events included the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the former President of the United States, Barack Obama. Many people may have also noticed that the news and their Facebook feeds had been taken over by news of a particular special guest in town — the notorious Prince Harry of Wales. From stalking him and his famous girlfriend, Meghan Markle (star of hit TV show, Suits), to cute videos of him giving popcorn to little children, it seems that everyone had been smitten with news of the VIP. While his day-to-day activities are fascinating, the real reason the Prince was in Toronto was for the 3rd Annual Invictus Games.
Despite the Prince’s reputation as a rebellious member of the Royal Family, he performed extensive services to his country by completing two tours in Afghanistan during his 10 years in the army. He was also awarded the Occupational Service Medal for Afghanistan, being the first Royal member since Prince Andrew to serve in an active war zone. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he relates to members of the military, especially those who have fought in wars. In 2014, Prince Harry created the Invictus Games, an athletic competition, similar to the Paralympics but for injured and wounded soldiers. The first Invictus Games were held in March 2014 in London and the second games were hosted by Orlando in May of 2016. Next year, the plans are to have the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.
This year, the Toronto Invictus Games were held from September 23rd to the 30th, kicked off by an entertaining and inspiring Opening Ceremonies held at the Air Canada Centre. Guests who spoke at the ceremony included Canadians Mike Meyers, Rick Hansen, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In addition, musical guests also included Alessia Cara, Sarah McLachlan, and The Tenors! The 17 sports events were held at several venues across the city. Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Pan Am centre in Scarborough and even the Nathan Phillips skating rink/pool was converted for use in the games. Our own York Lions Stadium was the venue used for track and field competitions. Many elementary school groups, families, and military members showed up to watch Monday’s track and field events at the York Lions Stadium, which lasted from 9am until 6pm. The crowds cheered amicably for all the athletes, but especially for Canadian participants. Co-captain of Team Canada, Natacha Depuis, was awarded with loud applause during her medal presentations on Monday, of which she had three, winning gold in the 100, 200, and 300 metre sprint competitions. Later in the week, she also won a silver medal for the one-minute sprint in rowing. This was extremely inspiring since Natacha suffers from a post-traumatic stress injury following her last tour in Afghanistan where she witnessed the death of two fellow soldiers.
Natacha’s story is only one of many. All the competitors have their own story of how they were injured in the service of their country, with many becoming physically disabled. Many of these injured service men and women competed in the Invictus Games as a way to represent their country in a different way. They have put service to their country first and in return the Games helped them cope with their injuries. The Games were not about winning medals, but about each competitor’s personal journey to healing and to self-improvement. These Games brought 550 competitors, their families, and friends from 17 countries to recognize the sacrifice these brave soldiers made in the service for their countries. The Games also celebrated how sports can bring us all together. While sports events have recently become a platform for debate on political issues, the Invictus Games showed us that sports brings people together because of the perseverance of the human soul to push through, to keep moving forward despite life’s hardships.