The royal is bringing his Paralympic-style event for wounded servicemen and women stateside to Orlando. And the second round of the games – which launched in London in 2014 – will feature the support of First Lady Michelle Obama, Rascal Flatts and a roster of inspiring athletes.
“This is the big one!” Harry tells PEOPLE of the event, which kicks off May 8.
The Invictus Games will feature hundreds of veterans and active duty members from around the world. Here are a few of the standouts representing the U.S. in this year’s event.
Retired U.S. Army Captain Will Reynolds of Bethesda, Maryland, will take part in four track events and two cycling events. Reynolds, who lost his left leg due to an IED during combat operations in Baghdad, won four bronze medals during the 2014 Invictus Games. “It was a transformational experience,” the 35-year-old says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of great performances and personal records this year.” Reynolds, who has met Prince Harry on several occasions adds, “It’s a deeply personal cause for him. He makes himself really accessible to all the competitors – he is involved in every aspect of the Games.”
Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Ana Manciaz lost her right leg after a noncombat accident in 2014. The 36-year-old of San Antonio, Texas, will take part in several events, including swimming, track and archery. “I just discovered archery and I totally feel like Katniss Everdeen every time I touch the bow!” she says, adding, “Through adaptive sports, I’m interacting with my commuting, I’m physically stronger and I’m pushing my limits.”
Retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Javier Rodriguez of Saint Cloud, Florida, had his left leg removed after a hit and run accident in 2011. Rodriguez, who won silver at the 2014 Invictus Games, will participate in wheelchair basketball, tennis and volleyball and is looking forward to a rematch with the British team, who previously took gold in wheelchair basketball. “I had a conversation with Prince Harry about how we’re going to beat him this year.” Rodriguez, 35, says. “He said, ‘We’ll have to see!’ He’s doing this event for everybody, but he’s still competitive side, too, so it’s fun.”
Retired U.S. Navy Legalman 1st Class Shahnaz Askins of Suffolk, Virginia, will compete in powerlifting and indoor rowing. Deployed to Iraq in 2004, her experiences in combat led to PTSD and other disabilities. “I had a lot of internal anger and sports is just a way of releasing it in a very healthy manner,” the 38-year-old says. “It has made a big difference in my recovery.” The mother of three is also proud to represent her fellow female veterans in the games. “It’s an honor,” she says. “We’ve got ourselves some tough chicks!”
Staff Sergeant August O’Niell of San Antonio, Texas, is an active duty pararescue amputee who was shot through the leg in Afghanistan in 2011 as his team was on a mission to rescue Marines. The 31-year-old, who will compete in swimming and sit volleyball, will also have a special role in the opening ceremonies. “I’m going to be reuniting with the crew that I was flying with when I got injured,” he says. “I haven’t seen most of them since the day that I got shot.”
For tickets to this year’s Invictus Games, click here.