Prince Harry speaks in Toronto ahead of the 2017 Invictus Games
Published 04 May 2016
I can’t wait to see how Canada embraces the games and rises to the challenge of telling Chapter 3 of the Invictus story
We’re here to celebrate the fact that in September next year, just seventeen months away, Toronto will host the Invictus Games. The Toronto games are going to be, I am promised, the biggest and best Invictus Games yet, with more competitors, competing in more sports, in front of more spectators than ever before.
In less than two week’s time, at the conclusion of the Orlando games, Toronto will become the custodian of the Invictus spirit. This city will become the focal point for hundreds of men and women who use the pull of Invictus glory to motivate their recovery from physical and mental injuries. And Toronto will take on the responsibility for a competition that has the power to inspire millions of people around the world and to remind us all of the amazing contribution that our servicemen and women and veterans make.
So as we approach the moment that Toronto and the people of Canada take on the Invictus spirit, I want to let you know just how much it means to me.
February 2008 was an important moment in my life, when I was forced to leave Afghanistan. I’d been serving as an officer in the British Army until my presence on the front line was leaked to the media. I could no longer stay with my soldiers, as it would have put them at greater risk. It was a decision over which I had no control, but the guilt of having to leave my guys behind was something I had to swallow.
It was that flight home from Afghanistan which put me on the path to create the Invictus Games. While we sat waiting to board, the coffin of a Danish soldier was loaded onto the plane. Meanwhile many of those who I was sat with were eagerly awaiting the journey home to their loved ones. For me this represented the stark reality and contrast of war. Once in the air, I stuck my head through the curtain to see three British soldiers – really young lads, much younger than me at the time – laid out on stretchers in induced comas; all three were wrapped in plastic, missing limbs with tubes coming out of them everywhere. This visceral image was something I’d never prepared myself for and had only heard of. It struck me that this flight was just one of many, carrying home men and women whose lives would be changed forever, and some who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Four years later, I made it back to Afghanistan as an Apache helicopter pilot. Again, I was reminded of the human impact of conflict as I protected medical teams evacuating soldiers and civilians from the battlefield. On other occasions, I sat high above the ground, at the controls of one of the world’s most advanced helicopters, and yet found I was powerless to protect the men, women and children below from harm. On returning home, I began to look for ways in which I could support those veterans who had returned with injuries that, in previous years, simply would have been un-survivable. And when I visited the Warrior Games in Colorado a year later, I knew what I had to do.
Seeing so many men and women with similar injuries to those three young lads I’d seen on the plane five years before, competing against each other with huge beaming smiles, made me realize how powerful this concept was. Sport is what made the difference. Sport could help these guys fix their lives and those around them. The Warrior Games were fantastic, but there were only a couple of hundred spectators. It seemed obvious to me that everyone, whether connected to the Armed Forces or not, would surely be inspired by their achievements; moved by their fighting spirit; and excited by the sporting competition unfolding before them. I left Colorado with the determination to take this to an international audience, so more people could support and celebrate these amazing individuals.
That is exactly what we did when we held the first Invictus Games in 2014. We put on a show. A global event, in the iconic venues of the London Olympics, and attracted an audience of tens of thousands in the stands and many millions on television.
We told the inspiring stories of the competitors who strived for Invictus glory, against the odds. We created a platform which helped to smash the stigma that existed around their injuries, particularly for those missing limbs, who showed that they weren’t afraid to talk about their experiences. We showed that veterans didn’t need our sympathy, just the opportunity to play a meaningful role in society once again.
They showed us the strength of the human spirit. They showed us that despite huge adversity, the impossible was possible. The Invictus spirit was born - an unconquerable spirit of determination, camaraderie, and service that I am incredibly proud to be a part of.
2017 will be your chance, your opportunity to salute those that serve your country; to salute those that put themselves in harms way so you don’t have to. On home soil, during this most auspicious of years, as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary and remembers the events and sacrifices at Vimy Ridge, you will have the chance to cheer on the custodians of the Invictus spirit. Your support will create a life changing atmosphere for competitors and spectators alike. Who knows, it may even help a Canadian clean sweep of medals!
But don’t take my word for it. To get a taste of what you can expect in September 2017, I urge you to watch next week’s games from Orlando. Tune in and be inspired by their stories, celebrate their successes and then please join Michael and his team to put on an even bigger show next year!
I can’t wait to see how Canada embraces the games and rises to the challenge of telling Chapter 3 of the Invictus story.