How Prince Harry's Invictus Games Help His Military 'Brothers and Sisters' Heal: 'We Are His Community'
"He has brothers and sisters from the military service who have been wounded, and he wants to do his part to give back," Captain Will Reynolds tells PEOPLE
Prince Harry‘s brainchild, the Invictus Games, grew out of his own experience serving in the military – and his commitment to helping his fellow veterans was clear to those who competed in the inaugural Games in London in 2014.
“I would say every athlete, all 400 plus, had at least one personal interaction with him,” Retired Army Captain Will Reynolds, who won four medals in track at the 2014 Games, tells PEOPLE.
“He was just that present and that accessible,” adds Reynolds. “He was not only a champion for the Games, but he was really rolling up his sleeves and involved in the planning and execution of it.”
Reynolds, who lost his left leg above the knee after an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq, has been training for the cycling and track events at the first U.S. Invictus Games, to be held May 8-12 in Orlando.
On Thursday, the organization announced its schedule of events for the five days of competition, which includes archery, wheelchair basketball, powerlifting and sitting volleyball among other sports. More than 500 competitors from 15 nations are expected to compete, with the official opening ceremony taking place on May 8.
Earlier this week, the group also revealed its first celebrity ambassador, Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins.
For competitors like Reynolds, the Games provide an opportunity to heal and grow following their military service.
Veterans-turned-athletes “go through a continuum,” says Reynolds. “When you start off in sports, it’s more about the rehabilitative aspects of it: finding other ways to literally get back up on your feet and get stronger. Then as you progress and if you choose to get more competitive, the discipline that comes with training and with the ability to compete at a really high level is motivating from a confidence standpoint. All of those things can translate to other facets of your life.”
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The Maryland-based father of four says Harry, who served two tours of Afghanistan, relates to the Invictus competitors as only a fellow veteran can.
“We are his community,” says Reynolds. “He has brothers and sisters from the military service who are affected by this.”
Reynolds recalls one moment during the 2014 Games when Harry, who attended practices and “mixed in with the huddles,” showed his “one of the Joes” side.
“He was congratulating one of the Brits that I had just sprinted against, and we were all kind of together getting our medals, and this gentleman was a little standoffish because he had just finished a race and was really sweaty,” says Reynolds. “Prince Harry didn’t care and put his arm around him and actually lifted up [the athlete]’s arm and put his head underneath his armpit. He was just like, ‘I don’t care.’ That was very funny.”
The royal, who told PEOPLE last September during a stop on Walking with the Wounded’s Walk of Britain that “the support for veterans has been amazing,” has made veterans’ issues one of his key causes.
“It’s a great vision,” Reynolds says of the Invictus Games. “The Military World Games are Olympics for service members around the world. Invictus is becoming the Paralympic games for service members around the world.” And as a veteran himself, adds Reynolds, “Harry has that much more passion behind it.”
To preorder tickets for the Games, visit the Invictus site.