"I was telling him that I miss flying," Christy Wise tells PEOPLE. "He was saying, 'I miss flying, too.' "

By Simon Perry
September 01, 2017 04:12 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Christy Wise

Prince Harry saw the redemptive power of sport at play and made the mission his own.

That’s the opinion of the only amputee pilot in the U.S Air Force, who will be competing in the royal’s paralympic-style Invictus Games for injured and wounded serving and veteran armed forces members later this month.

Christy Wise, 30, who is co-captain of the U.S. team for the upcoming games in Toronto, says the inspiration stems from Harry’s personal experience during his two tours in Afghanistan

“He saw people injured, and even a casket or two. He says we owe these people the best — whatever they’ve given, whatever we can do for them,” Wise tells PEOPLE. “At the [U.S armed services] Warrior Games he saw how sports is a way of showing people that ‘Okay, you know how you were an athlete before and had teammates and friends and this is a way of seeing that again, you don’t have to lose that.’ He saw how powerful it was.”

Credit: Courtesy Christy Wise

Wise, of Reno, Nevada, lost her right leg below the knee when she was paddle boarding in the sea near Shalimar, Florida, in April 2015. She had been hit by a motorboat and as she took a dive down to swim away from it, the propeller severed her leg. A friend who was with her miraculously managed to make a tourniquet and halt the bleeding until they could get help.

“In three minutes I lost 70 percent of my blood. The doctors said they couldn’t believe I lived through it – they said, ‘Another 30 seconds and you wouldn’t be here,’ ” she recalls. “So, at the beginning, it was never like sad that I lost my leg, it was more like I was happy to be alive. Everyone was so blown away that I lived.”

Credit: Invictus Games

Astonishingly, within three months, Wise was competing in the U.S. Warrior Games — something she had been told of while “bored” and working to get fit again. “I did everything with my arms, which to my mind was easy was I was already crutching everywhere. I was the strongest I had ever been in my life.”

It was a journey that then took her to Harry’s international Invictus Games the following year, 2016, in Orlando.

Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for Invictus Games

And this year, she will be among 550 competitors from 17 nations taking part in eight days of competition from September 24-30 in Toronto, Canada.

“Last year I was on the bus and I met this Special Forces British officer who lost his leg in Iraq and he had the same prosthetic as I do – the X3. We had completely different stories and from different countries and I was telling him I was getting blisters when I ride my bike and he said ‘me too.’ So we talked about how to ride bikes and not get blisters! That is so cool, as it takes people from all over the world.”

For Harry, 32, who just marked the painful anniversary of the death of his mother Princess Diana, it will be a return to Toronto, as it is a city he has become well-accustomed to in the last year while dating Meghan Markle, who lives there while shooting her hit show, Suits.

Credit: Courtesy Christy Wise

Like former helicopter pilot Harry, Capt. Wise’s role in the military is helping save her fellow armed forces members — she flies HC130 planes with air force rescue. “I met him the first time at the British Embassy when they were announcing the Orlando Invictus. I was telling him how I use my prosthetic and use it for pressing the rudder and that I miss flying,” she says. “He was saying, ‘I miss flying, too.’ ”

“When I’m flying I have to do everything everyone else does. I’m required to apply 150 lbs of force on the rudder pedal with my prosthetic leg.”

“Prosthetics have come so far and I cant wait to see them getting better and better,” she says. “There are things that still aren’t very easy. I am always talking to my friends at Ottobock [makers of her X3 prosthetic] on who’s working on a sports knee so I can play football again, who’s working on whatever. I’m excited to see how farther it will come.”