"He took a very personal interest in all the athletes," Sgt. Major Christopher Self tells PEOPLE

By Michelle Tauber
Updated July 16, 2015 03:15 PM
Credit: Courtesy Christopher W. Self

Prince Harry is bringing his Invictus Games to Orlando – and if it’s anything like the inaugural Games in London last fall, the competition promises to be fierce.

“It was very competitive – way more competitive than our Warrior Games, which is what Prince Harry used as a model,” Sgt. Major (Retired) Christopher Self, who competed in the London Invictus Games, tells PEOPLE.

The 2016 Invictus Games, to take place May 8 -12, will build on the success of last year’s event, which brought together servicemen and women from around the globe to compete in the Paralympic-style events.

“The best part was building camaraderie with service members from all over the world,” says Self, 48, who competed in the cycling event at the 2015 Invictus Games and has captured gold in the U.S.-based Warrior Games for the past three years.

“You’re meeting these folks from Britain, Canada, even Afghanistan in an Olympic-style competitive setting, and there is a lot of mingling and interaction,” adds Self, who spent 27 years in the U.S. Army and lost his right leg in 2006 after being shot in Iraq.

No matter where they come from, the competitors share common ground.

“Being in the military is like being a professional athlete,” says Self. “Through competitions like the Warrior Games or Invictus, it gives a chance to show, ‘Yes, I’ve been injured, but I’m still able to do these things physically and compete on a level playing field.’ ”

As for Invictus founder Prince Harry, 30, “He was around all the events almost every day,” says Self. “It was pretty cool to see him at that level. We had the chance to talk to him a couple of times. This was one of the biggest things he’s done as prince, and having been in the service himself, he took a personal interest in all the athletes.”

So what was the royal like?

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“Obviously you never forgot he was a prince,” says Self, who hopes to compete again at the 2016 Games, “but he was an easygoing guy, one of the Joes.”

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