By Matthew Miller
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
War has always been and remains an unescapable fact of human nature, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The devastation is not limited to the survivors, as its effects ripple to family members who live vicariously through their loved ones’ pain and sorrow. Lost limbs and nightmares are not an uncommon sight among military families. The damaged and destroyed buildings and bridges can be repaired and rebuilt relatively quickly, yetthe human toll is not so easily reparable.
It is not difficult to identify the physical sacrifices that wounded veterans have made; the visual nature of these injuries are easy to empathize with. Physical abnormalities are difficult to ignore. It is second nature to immediately notice unique abnormalities in the human form. Being unable to prevent yourself from fixating on a physical difference is not necessarily a negative trait. It’s most likely that a particular fixation is simply the mind adjusting to a curiosity in another person’s physical anomaly, and is easily accepted and adjusted to once logic overcomes physical intuition.
It is however, still somewhat uncomfortable for people to consciously recognize and accept, let alone acknowledge, the mental devastation that veterans endure – an environment that can only be described as hell on earth. Mental struggles are much more difficult to empathize with because they can’t be physically seen and are thus out of sight and out of mind. While it is possible to imagine yourself in devastating situations it will never fully equate to the firsthand experience. This fundamental disconnect places people who have suffered trauma at a severe disadvantage in terms of rehabilitation. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has become a term that, while more publically recognizable, still retains a tinge of taboo. This aversion to discuss the disorder has most likely dissuaded many of the afflicted to refrain from seeking necessary care and treatment. Sometimes it is only possible to begin the healing process when it becomes apparent that there are other people who have shared the same experiences and endured the resulting adversity to lead fulfilling lives.
Not everyone appreciates sport, but its therapeutic effects are indisputable. The comradery built through competition fills a fundamental human need for companionship and focuses a person’s mind and body as an individual and as a member of a team. Opponents respect each other even when the objective is to make the other side lose, because they understand the focused dedication it requires to simply show up. This point is eloquently described in the following excerpt taken from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly …”
The Invictus Games provide the arena for which wounded veterans can simultaneously compete and heal themselves and their counterparts. The Games were founded in 2014 by Prince Harry of the United Kingdom with the intent to bring international attention to the physical and mental challenges that confront veterans around the world. They are also a foundation from which these elite athletes and volunteers can help facilitate growth in educated awareness, serving to increase social acceptance.
The Games host over 500 competitors from 14 countries. These adaptive athletes compete in numerous events including but not limited to: archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis.
The Games provide a forum for participants who possess an unconquerable soul to proudly display their courage, determination, and dedication through the medium of athletics.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is blood; but unbowed.
The inaugural Invictus Games was a 4-day affair that began on September 10 at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, England. The 2016 Games are currently being held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Activities began on the May 8 with an opening ceremony that included performances by the U.S Army Herald Trumpets, U.S. Army Band, U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.
The closing ceremony will include performances by Rachel Platten, who sings “Fight Song,” the Games official ballad; Rascal Flatts; and Vetted, which is considered the “first nationally-recognized wounded warrior band.” Army Captain Will Reynolds will share his story: he lost his left leg above the knee due to an IED in Iraq, endured twenty-six surgeries while starting a family and earning both a Master’s of Business Administration and Master of Public Health before becoming a world renowned adaptive sports athlete and employee at a Fortune 100 consulting firm.
In keeping with the international spirit, the games will be held next year in Toronto, Canada. Prince Harry will hand off the Invictus Games flag to members of the organizing committee for the Invictus Games Toronto 2017. Both ceremonies are a celebration and emotional embracing of those who have shared the fell clutch of circumstance yet have refused to remain unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
The Invictus Games, according to the organizations website, “are the only international adaptive sporting event for injured active duty and veteran service members.” The prince has stated that what inspired this idea was his visit to the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado. Having himself served ten years in the British Army, Prince Harry was well suited to appreciate the meaning that this type of event held for the participants who might otherwise have felt little direction or purpose in their lives after war. He also understood that this problem was not specific to American veterans and was something that veterans worldwide grappled with daily.
The Games provide a sense of competitive structure, helping to minimize the listlessness many veterans can feel after parting ways with the military, an organization whose very survival depends on strict adherence to organized systems. It is an outlet for which those who have suffered varying degrees of mental and physical distress can, against the powerful pull of fear and self-preservation, step out of the shade and show that they can be found unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
That the Games serve a beneficial purpose is not in doubt. Numerous testimonials from participating athletes give praise to the games and to the prince for his dedicated, hands-on effort ensuring an atmosphere befitting veterans who have sacrificed much for their respective countries.
Micky Yule is a former staff sergeant for the Royal Engineers and by placing first in men’s lightweight powerlifting he became Britain’s first Invictus Games gold medalist. Losing both of his legs to an IED in Afghanistan has done little to sway his enthusiasm for his sport and for the prince who he goes on to praise: “Do you know what, he’s such a supporter and I think without Prince Harry’s input into the whole games, I’m sure it wouldn’t be what it is. He puts himself out, he’s around everybody. You see him in the back helping everybody.”
Retired Air Force master sergeant Israel Del Toro Jr. suffered third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body as a result of an IED blast in Iraq. In an interview with ABC News, Mr. Toro goes on to praise healing power of the Games stating, “Not only do I see myself, how I’ve changed, I’ve evolved. I’m stronger, more confident.” Similar testimonials abound.
It appears that the Invictus Games have already succeeded in providing an outlet for wounded veterans. Hopefully the stigmatization of PTSD will continue to decrease as the popularity of the Games continue to grow. Prince Harry is serious about this project and it has already paid dividends by giving back to the people who gave it all for the country. Hopefully, the Invictus Games can continue to inspire veterans by showing them that it is not out of reach to be able to one day say to themselves, ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’