By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2017 — The 2017 Invictus Games closed with a musical celebration of camaraderie among competitors from 17 nations and the official handover to the 2018 hosts from Sydney, Australia, at the Air Canada Center in Toronto, Sept. 30.
Throughout the week, more than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations competed in 12 sporting events including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball Sept. 23 to 30 as they were cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators in the Distillery District in Toronto.
The closing ceremony began with a parade of nation flags as athletes from each country took to the stage to receive a medallion and words of encouragement from Britain’s Prince Harry. Also, William Prince, from Manitoba’s Peguis First Nations, along with the Toronto Children’s Chorus, sang Canada’s national anthem, followed by Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
“You have inspired us with your determination, excellence and courage, and you challenge us to go beyond what we think is possible,” Sophie Gregoire Trudeau told the competitors. “You inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over diversity.”
Kelly Clarkson paid tribute to the competitors and their families, singing “Love So Soft” and “Stronger.” “It’s such an honor and privilege to be here performing at another Invictus Games. Thank you so much for having me here,” Clarkson said.
Actor Miles Teller said he was honored to be at the Invictus Games. “For a civilian coming from the outside and watching what’s transpired these past few days, it’s truly inspiring and humbling,” Teller said. “I’m honored to be here in Toronto.”
Bruce Springsteen dedicated three songs to the competitors, including “The Promised Land.” “It’s great to be here at the Invictus Games,” Springsteen told the roaring crowd. “I want to send this out to all of the athletes and to all of their families. You are showing the world that illness and injury can be a source of tremendous strength.”
Team Canada co-captains medically retired Cpl. Natacha Dupuis and Capt. Simon Mailloux and their families passed the Invictus flag to Team Australia co-captains Capt. Emma Kadziolka and Sgt. Peter Rudland and their families.
Bryan Adams took to the stage and dedicated two songs, including “Summer of 69” to the competitors. “It’s great to be a part of this Invictus Games. I want to thank Prince Harry for having the incredible courage to put it all together. On behalf of everybody in Canada, we love you,” Adams said. He called Springsteen back out and sang, “It Cuts Like a Knife” with him, along with a few more songs. Singers Randy Bachman and Fred Turner closed the show with “Taking Care of Business” as the competitors and fans sang along.
Harry thanked the Invictus team of volunteers and the people of Toronto for the success of the biggest Invictus Games so far.
“You have delivered the biggest Invictus Games, yet, with the most incredible atmosphere, making our competitors feel like the stars they are,” Harry said. He highlighted competitors who went above and beyond such as the team from the country of Georgia who dominated at sitting volleyball though they just learned the sport three years ago.
“I told you to be ready to see the true meaning of teamwork but who could’ve predicted how powerful it would be to see competitors from the Ukraine, Denmark, Romania and America band together to form Team Unconquered and win a sitting volleyball game with the people they just met?” Harry said. “I told you to get ready to see role models that children would look up to but who could’ve imagined that Randy Gavell [from Team U.S.] would compete on the track, on the court and in the pool, having battle back from emotional challenges and while four-and-a-half months pregnant? I think we all know who Randy’s little girl is going to look up to.”
Harry said he was also impressed with Team U.S.’s Mike Nicholson. “I told you to be ready to see lives changed in front of your eyes but I didn’t tell you that some of those lives would be your own,” he said. “I told you that anything is possible if you have the will but I didn’t tell you that when we saw triple amputee Mike Nicholson nail a 150-yard drive on the golf course, what we thought was impossible would change forever. Thank you, Mike.”
Harry asked those who watched the games either in the stands or at home to take on an Invictus goal themselves. “I told you that you would be inspired but I didn’t say that these games might leave you questioning if you are living up to your own true potential,” Harry said.
“To the thousands who filled the stands and millions who watched from home, let me issue to a challenge,” he said. “Let the examples of service and resilience that you have seen inspire you to take action to improve something big or small in your life for your family or your community. Let’s create a ripple effect of the Invictus spirit across our nations that will be the real legacy of this extraordinary week.”
Harry also encouraged the competitors to make a plan on how they’re going to use their experience of the week to lift others around them up. “It might be something big like starting a new project for young people or it might be something small like reconnecting with an old friend,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big or small your step is — just take it. Our world needs your dedication and passion like never before. And you never know, this may just be the missing piece of the puzzle to help you regain that satisfaction of serving others once again.”
Harry also encouraged the competitors to reach out and seek others to have them try out for the Invictus Games.
“I bet you can all think of at least one person who would benefit from these Invictus Games but has yet to find the motivation to make that first step,” he said. “When we gather in Sydney next year, I look forward to seeing familiar faces in competition but more than anything, I hope to meet those who have watched these games at home who may still be struggling but with your support, will wear their nation’s flag on their chest once again as part of the 2018 games. The Invictus Games are not just for the already determined. These games are for those who need it most. Please help us find them. It’s going to be game on down under. I’ll see you in Australia.”
Robert Irvine, celebrity chef; Derek Hough, professional choreographer, dancer, actor and singer; and Noah Galloway, motivational speaker and extreme sports enthusiast, participated in a celebrity wheelchair rugby match during the Invictus Games.
“The Invictus Games are so important,” Irvine said, who served in the U.K.’s Royal Navy for 10 years and has been on several USO tours. “To be here at the Invictus Games in Toronto is something very special. It’s humbling. It almost brings you to tears. The camaraderie in every competition, talk about the resilience of these men and women; it’s unbelievable. The standard of the excellence of our men and women of coalition forces is unbelievable.”
Medically retired Army Sgt. Noah Galloway participated in the celebrity wheelchair basketball match, along with Hough, at the Invictus Games last year in Orlando.
“I’m honored to be invited back. I love it because being an injured veteran, going through the struggles, it was fitness and getting into racing and competing again that got my spirits back up,” Galloway said, who was injured in 2005. “This is huge for other injured veterans like me because it’s getting them over those hurdles a little bit sooner because they come out here, and they’re representing their country, just like being in the military. This is incredible.”
Events like the Invictus Games are important because, “I’ve been there, I’ve been in those dark places and for me, fitness and competing is what helped me and that’s what this is,” Galloway said. “These are athletes. They are asked to challenge themselves and push themselves and to be part of a team, that’s the most important thing we can do for any of our veterans for what they’ve done for us.”
Galloway said having the family involved is also important. “I love the fact the families are involved because when someone like myself is injured, I’m not the only one that’s suffering. It’s my family, my parents, my siblings, my children who struggle. To have them all involved, you have that accountability,” he said.
Hough said he’s inspired by the service men and women he sees competing at the games. “Being part of the Invictus Games last year, I was able to witness firsthand how incredible these games truly are and not just because they’re entertaining and incredible to watch,” he said. “They’re very inspiring, these servicemen and women. What they’ve gone through is both terrifying but also inspiring. Adaptive sports truly save lives. It gives purpose; it gives meaning. It gives clarity. It gives goals. You see someone who goes from depression into going out there and winning gold, silver and bronze medals and being a part of this incredible event. This is a very important event. It’s about defying the odds and being unconquered, which is the Invictus Games.”
Hough said working with double amputee Amy Purdy on a previous season of “Dancing with the Stars” opened his eyes to the challenges the Invictus Games competitors face.
“We had to really invent a way to dance, and we ordered different types of prosthetics and types of feet to help it. I could just see the change in her,” Hough said. “One day, she had tears in her eyes, and she said it was the first time she felt feminine since she lost her legs. That really moved me incredibly.”
Hough said he also feels the strength of the support of family and friends behind the athletes. “Families, friends, caregivers, they are so important in everybody’s lives, but especially in servicemen and women’s lives, when they’re out in the field and when they come home,” he said. “The support never ends. That support is so needed. When somebody goes away, the family is experiencing it with them. There’s so much gratitude, so much love, so much appreciation that goes not just to these amazing athletes but to these servicemen and women but to the families, caregivers and friends who rally around them and support them.”
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)