HALIFAX, NS — There are 40 Team Canada athletes, and each one has their own individual journey that led them to the Invictus games. Due to their service in the Canadian Armed Forces, each has suffered a personal injury be it a physical or mental one. Some have suffered both.
Yet, as different as everyone is, they all have a shared experience and history after having served in the military. Each one can understand the situation their teammates must live. Each one has to deal with the anxiety of being judged, by those who don’t understand, based solely on their injuries.
While most of the athletes have support from their parents, grandparents, spouses, children and friends, it is different than what a fellow veteran can provide. It is an understanding of the dedication required to serve, but also an understanding of the injuries sustained during their service, as well as the need and methods to adapt. Those affected must adapt, not only to the injuries, but also to civilian life once again. It can be a culture shock for these athletes who had come of age and spent their entire adult lives immersed in military culture.
Team members all applied through the Soldier On program in order to be selected for Team Canada. Once selected, there was some trepidation for each athlete. ‘How will I be judged?’ ‘Will I fit in?’ ‘Can I actually compete in these games?’ These are examples of the questions they faced.
The answers came almost immediately.
In speaking to team Captain, Major (retired) Rob Hicks said, “the team was selected in February, the first camp was in April. We had an information session on a Sunday and by Monday morning the team was a cohesive group. Everyone was in high spirits, laughing, supporting each other.”
“We had an information session on a Sunday and by Monday morning the team was a cohesive group.”
During the information sessions held at the first camp, each athlete was matched to a sport that suits their individual injuries. For some, wheelchair sports were their only options.
During the two training camps in Victoria and Halifax, the athletes received world class group and individual coaching. The use of advanced training methods, which include advanced bio-rhythmic and video review, help improve the athlete. The goal is to provide each athlete a personalized training program to build on an understanding of their sports. They will also be given support locally within clubs that participate in these sports, as well as remote assistance via social media and email.
Doing so will not only aid them in their goal of competing in the Invictus games, but it also has the ultimate goal of helping to retrain the member physically as part of their rehabilitation. By building their confidence using strength and cardiovascular training, they can learn to focus their minds again and to trust their bodies.
More importantly, using sport, the Soldier On and Invictus programs are used to rebuild positive social structures beginning in the local sport clubs. These clubs allow each member to meet new people who share the same general goals and enjoyment of sport. This allows for sport to fill the social gap in a healthy and supportive environment that the member lost when they had to leave the military.
Brigadier-General Mark Misener, commander of the military’s Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) and the head of mission for Team Canada gave words of encouragement to this edition of Team Canada. Speaking of previous competitors Misener said, “All have faced a mental-health or physical injury, but by reaching out to others, getting involved in sport, and their own courage and determination, they have been able to overcome the challenges they faced.”
“..by reaching out to others, getting involved in sport, and their own courage and determination, they have been able to overcome the challenges they faced.”
During the training camp in Halifax, the coaching staff made use of local sport clubs to show the members they are filled with knowledgeable and like-minded individuals. The Halifax Rowing club spent several hours in the Dockyard, training alongside Team Canada providing technical training as well as sharing their personal experiences in the sport.
At the Stadacona gym, Nova Scotia’s wheelchair basketball team, currently training for the upcoming Canada Games, made an appearance. They spent several hours teaching the Invictus athletes how to use their chairs in a variety of game situations. Then the Nova Scotia team members spent time competing in a friendly scrimmage. It was a scrimmage that became competitive quickly as Team Canada became comfortable with their wheelchairs.
During the official announcement, held on July 25th in the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Halifax Dockyard, Michael Burns, CEO of Invictus Toronto said, “For the first time in many years, for many of the team, it will be an opportunity to put on a Canadian uniform again and wear that maple leaf with pride. But more than anything, it’s an opportunity for them to have a mission and a purpose — something that is often lost after they have served their country.”
“…it will be an opportunity to put on a Canadian uniform again and wear that maple leaf with pride.”
That is the ultimate purpose of the Invictus games. It isn’t about winning medals, it is about using sport to provide ill and injured veterans a new, healthy, purpose and to provide a them all with a new social support system. This allows the members to regain normalcy in their lives and feel a renewed sense of purpose. This allows them and not their injuries to define who they are proving they are Invictus, Unconquered.