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Wounded warrior athletes celebrate 100 days until British Invictus Games

Wounded warrior athletes celebrate 100 days until British Invictus Games

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Last spring, Prince Harry — fourth in line to the throne, Army captain, Apache pilot, Afghanistan veteran, THAT guy — attended the Warrior Games in Colorado and immediately was smitten, vowing to start a similar event for injured troops and veterans in Britain.

But he hoped to go beyond hosting British and U.S. service members. Instead, he envisioned a competition that would celebrate the achievments and sacrifices of personnel from many coalition countries.

In September, he’ll accomplish that mission when athletes from 13 countries, including about 100 Americans, will travel to London for the 2014 Invictus Games, a four-day Paralympic-style tournament showcasing nine sporting events.

“Through sporting competition, we can recognize the sacrifices [these personnel] have made but also focus on their talent and ability and what they can achieve post-injury,” Prince Harry said in an Invictus Games public service announcement.

On May 30, 20 wounded warrior athletes got a taste of Britain when they celebrated the countdown to the games at the home of British Ambassador Peter and Lady Westmacott in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Invictus Games participants celebrated 100 days to London at the British Embassy May 30 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of the British Embassy)

U.S. Invictus Games participants celebrated 100 days to London on May 30 at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of the British Embassy)

Sipping Pimm’s Cups and champagne and nibbling on fish and chip appetizers on a grand staircase adjacent to the embassy rose garden, the service members and veterans expressed excitement at traveling to London in 100 days.

“I’ve always been competitive. When your life changes as dramatically as mine, there’s a chance you might give up,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro, who was injured in a roadside bomb attack in 2005 that caused burns on more than 80 percent of his body. “If you quit before you start, you’re done. I will never let the guys who set that bomb get the satisfaction that they ruined my life.”

According to Westmacott, the games will include teams from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and a “small but highly symbolic contingent of Afghans.”

“I have frequently had the honor of hosting British and American wounded warriors — both serving and veteran — at my home. I never cease to be moved and amazed by their tales of battlefield bravery and triumph over adversity,” Westmacott said.

Prince Harry has dedicated much of his time raising awareness and funds for wounded warrior programs. He’s often seen participating in events with injured troops. Last year in Colorado, he engaged in a match of sitting volleyball with the British team, and in December, he traveled alongside American, British, Canadian and Australian wounded veterans on an arduous trek to the South Pole.

His Highness unabashedly admits he stole the playbook  for the Invictus Games from the U.S. Warrior Games, but he would like to see the British version become an annual event that grows in the number of sports and participants over time.

“I am hugely honored …. to have met some of those who are on a journey of recovery, who flat out refuse to be beaten by their injuries,” the prince said.

The Invictus Games (invictus is Latin for unconquerable) will be followed weeks later by the 2014 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sept. 28 through Oct. 4.

Invictus events include athletics, archery, wheelchair basketball, road cycling, indoor rowing, wheelchair rugby, swimming, sitting volleyball and a driving challenge.

The Warrior Games in 2013 featured seven events  –  archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field and wheelchair basketball.

Prince Harry and the Brits have launched an all-out public relations offensive for the Games, with the royal family taking to Twitter to promote them. The team also has enlisted a slew of British celebrities to help raise awareness.

U.S. organizers of the Wounded Warrior Games are hoping to reach a broader audience this year. Chatter at the embassy among the U.S. supporters included talk of potential television coverage.

“We’d really like to see some coverage, much like they have for the Paralympics,” a Defense Department official said. “These are worthwhile athletic events and very exciting to watch.”

The Invictus Games will be held Sept. 10-14 in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park — the venue for the London Olympics in 2012 –  as well as the Lee Valley Athletics Centre. Check out the Invictus Games’ catchy promotional video or this star-studded one of athletes and VIPs reciting “Invictus,” a poem by Earnest William Henley.

Patricia Kime

Patricia Kime is a health writer for Military Times. Reach her at pkime@militarytimes.com.