Prince Harry went toe-to-toe with a boxing toddler on Friday — and came out second best.
That’s according to his namesake, 2-year-old Harry Phillips. When asked who’d won, he proudly told PEOPLE, “Me!”
“Big Harry was teaching little Harry to box,” says Phillips — who injured his spinal cord in a fall in Afghanistan and was medically discharged from the 2nd Mercian regiment. He is hoping to take part in archery and shot put events. “They were high-fiving and boxing. We were chuffed to bits that they met, as we call our son our Prince Harry!”
The prince dropped in on the trials day at the University of Bath as more than 300 British hopefuls try out for this year’s games. The Paralympic-style games, which started in London, are for wounded, sick and injured serving and former members of the armed forces.
In an impromptu address at the rowing trials, the prince — dressed down in open-necked sweater, khakis and new suede shoes — thanked the competitors for their personal journeys and told them, “This is the Invictus family. Make the most of it, enjoy it.”
“I’d like to see you all there, but the reality is we only have 90 places. But what I do hope is your journey up to this point has been recovery no matter what — and on top of recovery you’re here making friends and sharing stories and experiences you’ll never forget.”
At the track side, Harry met archery competitor Jon Flint and his assistance dog from Canine Partners, black Labrador Jester. The lively dog barked and looked frisky when Harry arrived at his side. “He quite often turns his nose up at people — he’s a snob,” says Flint, who’s a former marine who was injured in a climbing accident in 1996. “Fortunately, he is always all right with royalty. Prince Harry’s pretty good. He always asks if he can say ‘hello’ to him, as you shouldn’t approach them without saying hello first.”
Harry was in his element among the men and women taking part — happily posing for selfies and chatting about training. Toronto will be different from Orlando, which was concentrated in one center arena and had a “family vibe,” he said. “Toronto will give you the opportunity to move around and do whatever you guys want to do,” he told some athletes.
Major Bruce Ekman, who is still serving in the 16 Air Assault regiment despite shattering his heel in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2011, is taking part in 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter sprints. Of Harry, he says, “It’s just him — the way he walks around and talks to everyone is so personable.”
Earlier, the royal came face-to-face with rugby player Matthew Attwood, who was demonstrating the latest ground-breaking research into rugby injuries — while wearing very little clothing.
The near-naked researcher was displaying the latest technology that is looking into whether tackling differently can avoid injuries. Standing in his underpants and a hat, the 6′ 5″ former player had around 50 sensors stuck around his body to measure impact and pressure on his bones as he made a tackle.
“I feel a bit ridiculous,” he says. “The day I meet royalty and I’m in not far from my birthday day suit. It will be a memorable occasion.”
As they chatted about the greater publicity that was now likely coming their way, Harry joked with Attwood, “You’re getting exposure now. And you’re going to get rinsed by all your mates tomorrow!”
Harry, a passionate supporter of the game and royal patron of governing body the Rugby Football Union and the Injured Players Foundation, was told how the center is trying to understand the demands of the rugby tackle, and how risk of injury can be reduced or averted.
The university’s earlier work has helped change the laws of the world game after their research into the pressure and injuries that can come in a scrum. Harry watched some of the college’s rugby first team attack the mock-scrum equipment that had been used in that research. “He told us that this research will prove that injuries are less likely to happen and will encourage parents that rugby is much safer and is more likely to get more people into the sport,” says Michael Snook, 21, who is a flanker for the team.
Something else wasn’t lost on the prince either: “At least you were allowed to wear your clothes as opposed to the guy next door,” he told the team in their rugby jerseys.