“You will see things that in years past just wouldn’t have been possible. You will see people who by rights should have died on the battlefield but instead they are going for gold on the track or in the pool. Mark my words you will be inspired, you will be moved and… you will be entertained… Let’s put on a hell of a show in memory of all of our fallen comrades who didn’t make it. We are invictus!”
It was with these words (invictus is the Latin for “unconquered”) that HRH Prince Harry opened his second Invictus Games for wounded, injured or sick, active or veteran military personnel yesterday, 8 May, in Orlando, Florida. The sports competition begins today.
Spectators may be surprised that some of the participating athletes don’t appear to be suffering from any physical handicaps at all: but they are the service men and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and other mental health issues. Prince Harry made a specific appeal on behalf of these wounded during his opening speech:
“While I have your attention (…) I want to briefly speak about an issue that for far too many of you is shrouded in shame and fear. An issue that is just as important for many of you watching at home as it is for those of you in this stadium tonight.
It is not just physical injuries that our Invictus competitors have overcome. Every single one of them will have confronted tremendous emotional and mental challenges. When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let’s also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn’t leave his house. Let’s cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress and let’s celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression.
Over the next four days you will get to know these amazing competitors. They weren’t too tough to admit that they struggled with their mental health, and they weren’t too tough to get the help they needed.
To those of you watching at home and who are suffering from mental illness in silence – whether a veteran or a civilian, a mum or a dad, a teenager or a grandparent – I hope you see the bravery of our Invictus champions who have confronted invisible injuries, and I hope you are inspired to ask for the help that you need.”
Athletes from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and USA will be competing in 10 different sports: archery, athletics, strength athletics, swimming, cycling, rowing, chair basketball, chair tennis (new this year) chair rugby and chair volleyball.
Not really part of the Games as such but worth a gold medal anyway, the first of the 2016 Invictus Games, was the driving challenge, and it was won by the French pair Henry Rébujent (a mistake is made in the video with his name) and Philippe Robert, part of the French delegation of 30 athletes, and one replacement. They are accompanied by six officers from the Fontainebleau-based Centre national du sport de la Défense (CNSD) and were able to bring family members and/or friends to support them.
Like the 469 other athletes participating, they are not top-level athletes but would qualify as “very good” athletes. Prince Harry’s idea when he founded the Invictus Games foundation in 2013 was not to turn these athletes into professionals but simply to use sports as a way to encourage them on their route to healing and adapting to their handicap; as a way of encouraging those who are just starting out on this route; and as a means for the public to show its support to the men and women who have suffered in this way to defend their country.
Below are the 31 French athletes (A= Army; N= Navy; AF= Air Force; G=Gendarmerie; C= Civilian employed by the defence ministry) who are all taking part in the Invictus Games for the first time except when mentioned otherwise:
Alain Akakpo (C), born 24/08/1984 in Montluçon, lost a forearm in May 2004 when a grenade exploded during training. He won the 100m and 200m gold medals at the 2015 World Military Games. He also won the 100m and 200m gold medals at the Invictus Games 2014 and silver in the 4x100m. This year he is also playing wheelchair volleyball.
Sergeant Cédric Arci (A), born 19/12/1973 in Sens, suffered brain trauma during a combat training session in December 2005. He will be playing wheelchair basketball, cycling, swimming and rowing.
Sergeant Benjamin Atgie (A), born 06/01/1988 in Créteil, lost his left leg on 19 February 2011 in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. He won the 100m bronze medal in the 2015 World Military Games and a wheelchair basketball silver medal in the 2014 Invictus Games. This year he is taking part in wheelchair basketball, swimming, athletics and rowing.
Captain Eric Baudrit (A), born 13/03/1971 in Nantes, lost half his right hand in 1993 during training in a simulated infantry shooting and also suffered from the blast. He won an archery team gold medal in the 2015 World Military Games. He is taking part in archery, wheelchair volleyball, swimming and rowing.
Corporal Marion Blot (A), born 13/09/1984 in Caen, injured a knee in February 2009 and in March 2013 her femur and tibia bones collapsed confining her to a wheelchair. She is taking part in strength athletics, swimming, athletics and rowing.
Damien Brou (C), born on 09/12/1977 in Pontoise, fell into a ravine in April 2000 and fractured a vertebra leaving him with innervated shins and difficulties in finding his balance. He is swimming and cycling.
Sergeant Thomas Brun (A), born 15/03/1987 in Carcassonne, lost his left foot and suffered multiple leg injuries and PTSD after stepping on an anti-personnel mine in April 2011 in Afghanistan. He won the shot put and discus gold medals at the previous Invictus Games and this year is also taking part in strength athletics as well as wheelchair basketball, rowing and athletics.
Laurent Catelain (C), born 29/03/1959 in Le Havre, was injured in August 2011 by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan which eventually led to his right leg being amputated. He is cycling, rowing and playing wheelchair basketball and volleyball.
Sergeant Laurent Charlot (A), born 14/09/1983 in Marignane, suffered a triple ankle fracture and severed tendon in a February 2011 IED explosion in Afghanistan. He is rowing, doing strength athletics and playing wheelchair volleyball.
Gendarme Florian Cieplak (G), born 18/05/1984 in Cahors, had his right arm injured by a bullet in Guyana. He is doing archery, wheelchair volleyball and rowing.
Sergeant Michaël Courtois (A), born 17/12/1987 in Hyères, suffers from PTSD after a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. He is taking part in athletics and wheelchair volleyball.
Sergeant Linda Coyac (A), born 17/08/1981 in Redon, suffered severe injuries in a November 2003 road accident whilst on duty. She is taking part in archery, swimming, athletics, rowing and wheelchair volleyball.
Staff Sergeant François-Xavier David (G), born 09/08/1985 in Pau, was wounded in August 2011 in the right leg and both arms by an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He is playing wheelchair volleyball, and taking part in swimming, athletics and rowing.
Chief Petty Officer Sébastien David (N), born 25/01/1978 in Ussel, has several injuries to a shoulder, a knee and his back so that he can no longer be shipborne. He is doing archery, playing wheelchair basketball, and taking part in swimming and rowing.
Sergeant Julien Escobar (A), born on 11/03/1980 in Chambéry, lost most of his right hand in December 2004 when a grenade exploded during a training exercise. He is doing athletics, archery, playing wheelchair volleyball and rowing.
Gendarme Fabian Frily (G), born on 11/10/1982 in Rillieux-la-Pape, was wounded in August 2011 by an IED in Afghanistan which broke a forearm, damaged a radial nerve and left him with PTSD. He is doing athletics, archery, playing wheelchair basketball, rowing and swimming.
Warrant Officer Frank Gibot (G), born on 06/03/1969 in Soissons, suffers from PTSD after a long deployment to Afghanistan. He is doing archery and rowing and playing in wheelchair volleyball.
Sergeant Jonathan Hamou (AF), born on 23/04/1986 in Salon-de-Provence, lost both his hands in October 2013 in a grenade explosion. He is doing athletics, swimming and rowing.
Warrant Officer Hervé Labarta (A), born 06/02/1978 in Bayonne, suffered multiple wounds in February 2013 when a grendade exploded in Mali. He is cycling, rowing and playing wheelchair basketball.
Sergeant Céline Larrere (A), born 05/05/1981 in Orthez, has suffered from PTSD since November 2004 and the bombing of the Descartes Lycée in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire. She is doing athletics, swimming, rowing, cycling and playing wheelchair volleyball.
Djamel Mastouri (C), born 17/01/1972 in Paris, was left hemiplegic (paralysed on one side of the body) after a stroke suffered when he was just three years old. Already a top-level sportsman prior to his mandatory military service, he has since continued both his career in the military and his sports. He is taking part in athletics, rowing and wheelchair volleyball.
Mickaël Mayali (C), born 26/02/1988 in Dakar, Senegal, had to have his left foot amputated following an accident aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. For his second participation in the Invictus Games he is doing athletics, rowing and playing wheelchair basketball.
Warrant Officer Raphaël Perriraz (G), born 29/09/1974 in Montpellier, suffered bullet wounds to his right arm and left knee in June 2012 in Guyana. He is doing archery, rowing and wheelchair basketball.
Sébastien Peyen (C), born on 21/07/1978 in Denain, suffered a stroke in 2001 at the Tulle gendarmerie school leaving him hemiplegic and in wheelchair for several months. He has now recovered some of his motricity. He is doing athletics and rowing.
Sergeant Pascal Pilard (A), born on 03/05/1966 in Issy-les-Moulineaux, was wounded in September 2008 by an IED in Afghanistan. He is a former boxing and judo champion and is the replacement athlete in the team.
Henry Rébujent (C), born on 31/03/1968 in Perpignan, suffered severed wounds to the legs in September 2005 when his vehicle hit an anti-tank mine. The explosion also damaged his hearing. He is the 2012 French vice-champion for in-line handcycling, the 2012 French champion for against the clock handcycling and won the Bronze medal in the last Invictus Games for in-line cycling. He is, naturally, taking part in the cycling, but also in athletics, rowing and wheelchair volleyball.
Staff Sergeant Philippe Robert (A), born 09/12/1987 in Paris had a motorcycling accident in January 2010. He won the 100m gold medal and the 200m silver medal in the last Invictus Games and this year is doing athletics, rowing and wheelchair basketball.
Warrant Officer Franck Robin (G), born 06/01/1978 in Montbrison, was left paraplegic by a bullet wound sustained in September 2011 in Guyana. At the last Invictus Games he won two cycling gold medals and this year, apart from cycling, he is also rowing and playing wheelchair basketball.
Nurse Émeline Saint-Georges, born 20/06/1987 in Rosny-sous-Bois, suffered brain trauma and several fractures in a car crash in May 2013 in Côte-d’Ivoire. An accomplished sportswoman she is swimming, cycling and doing athletics.
Warrant Officer David Travadon (A), born 06/07/1977 in Guingamp, lost his left eye, suffered multiple wounds to his face and his right forearm in November 2009 when a mine exploded in Lebanon. An accomplished sportsman he quickly returned to sports and is the captain of the French Invictus Games 2016 team. He won the 1,500m gold medal and cycling silver medal in the last Invictus Games. This time he is also taking part in athletics and cycling.
Staff Sergeant Jocelyn Truchet (A), born 27/03/1985 in Saint Jean de Maurienne, lost his left leg in May 2010 in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He is doing athletics, rowing, archery and playing wheelchair volleyball.