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, Sept. 23, 2017. At right is team co-captain Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears. The Invictus Games, established by Britain's Prince Harry in 2014, brings together wounded and injured veterans from 17 nations for 12 adaptive sporting events, including track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, swimming, sitting volleyball and -- new to the 2017 games -- golf. DoD photo by Roger L. Wollenberg
Third Invictus Games adaptive sports competition kicks off in Toronto
by Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity
TORONTO, Sept. 24, 2017 — Competitors, celebrities, royalty and spectators came together here last night to kick off the 2017 Invictus Games at the sold-out Air Canada Centre here.
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.
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, provide 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."
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 Sept. 30.
"[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, who is 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. We don't mind sharing, too, but whoever wins wins, [and] we're going to fight for it."
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."
The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces from Ottawa and the Royal Regiment Band from Quebec performed as the 550-plus competitors from the 17 participating countries entered the arena. Thailey Roberge of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Elliot Miville-Deschenes of Montreal represented the youth of Canada and hosted the opening ceremonies. They sang "O Canada," the Canadian national anthem, and then "Under One Sky" to celebrate the Invictus Games Flag Tour.
As Laura Wright sang the official 2017 Invictus Games song, "Invincible," more than 200 members of the Canadian Military Wives National Choir joined her. Canadian Rangers marched in bearing the Invictus Games flag and raised it high.
Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan performed "I Will Remember You" and then spoke of the Lighting of the Flame ceremony, which began in Kabul, Afghanistan. The flame passed from Afghan security forces veteran Maj. Ahmad Shahh to retired Canadian Master Cpl. Jody Mitic, official ambassador of the Toronto Games.
Michael Burns, CEO of the Invictus Games 2017 organizing committee, said the committee is leveraging most of the infrastructure used in the Pan American Games here in 2015.
"We will be up in Scarborough for swimming. Tomorrow, we will be up at York University at their brand new stadium for athletics. The old Maple Leaf Gardens will be a massive hub of activity. We drained the reflective pool at the Nathan Phillips Square to host wheelchair tennis. We're hosting archery at Fort York, and we're using Hyde Park for cycling," Burns said. "This city is going to be lit up over the next eight days. There isn't anywhere you're going to be able to turn and not see a banner or sign or sport competition or the competitors throughout the city enjoying themselves."
He said the closing ceremony and almost every ticketed sporting competition has sold out.
"Over the next eight days, you will be moved; you will be inspired. You will be entertained. You will see things on the playing field you have never seen before," he said. "These games aren't about the finish line. These games are all about making it to the starting line. The men and women who will be competing in these games -- talk to any one of them -- they'll tell you that they have been injured as a result of their service. Any one of them has been tested many, many times by faith throughout their careers, and yet they remain undefeated, undiminished, proudly and distinctly unconquered."
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