In a speech to highlight the Toronto Games, Harry highlighted his personal connection to the competition for wounded warriors.
“February 2008 was an important moment in my life, when I was forced to leave Afghanistan,” he said. “I’d been serving as an officer in the British Army until my presence on the front line was leaked to the media. I could no longer stay with my soldiers, as it would have put them at greater risk. It was a decision over which I had no control, but the guilt of having to leave my guys behind was something I had to swallow.
“It was that flight home from Afghanistan which put me on the path to create the Invictus Games. While we sat waiting to board, the coffin of a Danish soldier was loaded onto the plane. Meanwhile many of those who I sat with were eagerly awaiting the journey home to their loved ones. For me this represented the stark reality and contrast of war. Once in the air, I stuck my head through the curtain to see three British soldiers – really young lads, much younger than me at the time – laid out on stretchers in induced comas; all three were wrapped in plastic, missing limbs with tubes coming out of them everywhere. This visceral image was something I d never prepared myself for and had only heard of. It struck me that this flight was just one of many, carrying home men and women whose lives would be changed forever, and some who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Four years later, I made it back to Afghanistan as an Apache helicopter pilot. Again, I was reminded of the human impact of conflict as I protected medical teams evacuating soldiers and civilians from the battlefield . . . On returning home, I began to look for ways in which I could support those veterans who had returned with injuries that, in previous years, simply would have been un-survivable. And when I visited the Warrior Games in Colorado a year later, I knew what I had to do.
“Seeing so many men and women with similar injuries to those three young lads I d seen on the plane five years before, competing against each other with huge beaming smiles, made me realize how powerful this concept was. Sport is what made the difference.”
Toronto is Harry’s last stop before he lands in America. On Wednesday he’ll touch down in Palm Beach, Florida, for a polo match to raise funds for his African children’s charity Sentebale. Then he’ll travel to Orlando for the 2016 Games, which will feature some 500 athletes from around the world competing in five days of competition on May 8-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
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Tickets for the Orlando Games can be purchased on the official Invictus site.