Training Invictus Warriors

According to the Invictus Games Foundation, it was a trip to the 2013 Warrior Games in the USA where Prince Harry saw first-hand how the power of sport can help – physically, psychologically and socially – those suffering from injuries and illness. Through the inspiration of this visit, the Invictus Games was born.

Like most Canadians, I have a passing idea of what the Games are about and, as a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces, I approve whole-heartedly of the concept and its tenants. None-the-less, I was surprised when FrontLine editor Chris MacLean asked me to take photos and write an article of the Canadian Invictus team training here at CFB Esquimalt.  “You’re near Victoria, aren’t you? Interested in writing an article on Team Canada?” A typically cryptic MacLean note, to be sure, but the idea really interested me, because I’d wanted to know more about the Invictus Games, and here was the opportunity on a plate!

Peter Lawless is a Victoria lawyer. He is also Vice President of the Canadian Olympic Committee and has coached Canadian ParaOlympians for years – and is now a coach with Team Canada of the Invictus Games. Self described as a ‘relentless optimist’, he seems the perfect person for the job. His twin brother Mike is also a lawyer in Victoria and a Canadian Naval Reserve Commander.  When I went over to the Base gym last week to take some photos and talk to those involved, Peter was standing in the middle of Invictus spin cyclers, exhorting them to ‘push harder’ and ‘not give up’. This was on the upper balcony of the CFB Esquimalt gymnasium, while down below another group of Invictusians, were lustily pulling on rowing ergometers, and also being exhorted by their coaches. Later that evening, other Team Canada members would be playing wheelchair basketball, as well as other sports.

As a former physical education teacher, educated as an exercise physiologist and something of a sportsman, if not an athlete, I was well aware of the ethic and ‘feel’ of the dynamic I was experiencing that day in the Base gym. A look of total focus and determination was on every athlete’s face. They know that the harder they train, the greater the success they will experience on the gym floor and athletic field. The raw energy in here is almost palpable. All of these athletes are unique, all are former military people who have been injured and incapacitated in some fashion. So this desire to overcome and succeed is, I believe, even stronger in these athletes than one might find in ‘normal’ athletes.

I didn’t interrupt any of them to ask of them the standard journalistic questions that they’d likely been subjected to earlier in the day. I didn’t think I needed to. It was all there in front of me – the puddles of sweat on the floor, the grimaces of pain and exertion, and the smiles of jobs well done. These are proud and wonderful ambassadors of Canada and the Canadian military.

I left the CFB Esquimalt base gymnasium that day, truly uplifted and inspired.

– Jim Parker, is a former naval reservist and teacher now living in Victoria, British Columbia.