Caption – Invictus is latin for Unconquered
Well, the Invictus Games came and went in Toronto, ON from 23-30 September 2017. 550 ill and injured veterans, and about 900 friends and family from 17 different nations competed in 12 different sports.
The Sheraton Town Centre Hotel lobby in downtown Toronto turned into the “It” party for the week straight.
The scope and scale of the Invictus Games can be easily Googled, the human and warrior spirit displayed at the Games cannot. To quote His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Patron of the Invictus Games “…Invictus is about the dedication of the men and women who served their countries, confronted hardship, and refused to be defined by their injuries…”
For a week, the Toronto provided a venue to host a celebration of troops and their families who refused to be conquered, and provide hope for those who may be in a dark place.
This was what the games were all about. Not winning or losing, but advancing beyond the setbacks from the darker side of our profession. As the audience of this particular publication knows all too well, the Canadian Armed Forces and other nations allied to us have been in almost continuous operations since 2003 – some more or less, in many countries around the world. Although Team Canada did very well, there were no medal counts – it would have been outside the scope of the Games to maintain one.
I was lucky enough to be selected for a spot on Team Canada after speaking with one of the Operational Stress Injury Social Support Peer Support Coordinators at CFB Shilo in October 2016. I applied on a bit of a whim, and to paraphrase Forrest Gump “I never thought lifting anything would take me anywhere”. Little did I know it would start a journey that would turn out to be one of the highlights of my military career.
Training started a year out, and received a fast forward from two training camps, each about a week long, in Victoria, BC and Kingston, ON, about six and three months out, respectively. Long hours in the gym, pool, and track followed. Sore muscles and liniment became the norm. For myself, in powerlifting, a shocking amount of weight was moved through a “modified Sheiko” program.
Caption – For those who don’t follow the sport, powerlifting is weighlifting’s angry, weird, strange cousin. Competitors may also have some of these qualities.
Caption – Bumper plates in training make it look like I’m beating world records.
With outstanding coaching across the board for all sports, Team Canada arrived in Toronto on the 22nd of September ready to go after a short staging camp in Ottawa.
An Opening Ceremonies spectacular followed, and the next day, the sports began in earnest.
Caption – His Royal Highness Prince Harry delivers the key address of the Opening Ceremonies to the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, ON.
The powerlifting venue was hosted by Ryerson University at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Call it a bit of a pilgrimage for any hockey fan. Powerlifting was easily one of the contenders for the most compelling sports to watch. Lights, music and the announcer all contributed to an electric atmosphere. All the drama, fear, excitement, and visceral power of the sport was on display.
The first day of powerlifting saw the women’s light, middle, heavyweight and men’s lightweight divisions compete. The second day saw the men’s middle and heavyweight divisions compete.
Powerlifting generally consists of three lifts the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Each lifter has three attempts to lift as much weight as possible in each lift. Judges from three angles determine if the weight is lifted in the appropriate manner. Each judge controls a light, two judges agreeing determines a lift’s success or fail and is indicated through a white or red light. Weight, once loaded, cannot be taken off the bar. A lifter’s total, consisting of the best lift of each of the three attempts determines the winner. Weight and gender are also accounted for, and a calculation called the Wilks Formula determines a “kilogram for kilogram” best lifter.
Volunteers from the Canadian Powerlifting Union (a civilian group dedicated to the sport) provided top notch judging and loading.
This particular competition was for “Bench Only”, to provide allowances for competitors who may be unable to squat or deadlift due to their injuries.
For myself, the competition forced me to focus. Long hours in the gym reinvigorated, reinforced and revived the Gunner Spirit, and Discipline; and carried over to both my personal and professional life. I am a true believer in the adage that exercise is medicine. I’ve had a series of injuries, both physical and mental. Out of necessity, I have had to adapt old lifestyle choices. It may be difficult or even disheartening; I can no longer play rugby, football, or other high-impact sports, but discovering new ways to harness the energy and work ethic expected of a soldier in the Royal Regiment has added a new zeal to life.
Caption – I’ll take a top 10 finish on the world stage any day of the week. Along with a 7.7Kg Personal Best on the platform.
By the day’s end, all the competitors had given everything they had on the platform. Medals were distributed, but all the competitors had succeeded.
Caption –Victory! The author celebrates with PSP Eileen Du Plooy (coach and volunteer), an outstanding lifter and mentor herself. She is a world recording holding powerlifter and one of the strongest women in Canada.
As the Games wound down, competitors, along with their friends and family were able to relax, take in the show, meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and cheer on the remaining athletes in other disciplines.
All of those present had completed both a physical and mental journey to a better place.
For those who are hurt, are in a dark place – remember, you are not alone. Reach out. There are many resources available to you.