We dropped into Buckingham Palace last week..as you do.
To be more accurate, we stood on the crunchy pink gravel of the forecourt in the early morning drizzle as Prince Harry met the United Kingdom’s Invictus Games team. Of course, being Servicemen and women, the team did not overdo the feelings of excited anticipation, no gushing enthusiasm there, just some some witty banter with His Royal Highness. He loves being with the blokes, they treat him as one of their own and they all know that if it wasn’t for him there would be no Invictus Games to look forward to.
Back on the bus and en route to HQ Virgin Atlantic for a posh reception, I heard from some of the athletes. The stories are extraordinary and very humbling; here are just a few from so many.
Mark, suffering from MS, found himself going blind, he lost his vision in just three shocking hours. I can’t imagine what that must be like, just coping with the everyday must be a living nightmare, but now he’s a skier, loving the sensation of speed in a darkened world. He’s competing in these games as a swimmer, his wife will be there to tell him when he’s got to turn to prevent him smashing into the end of the pool. He tells his story with no self pity, just the facts and a few well delivered jokes.
Nathan has supported H4H in the past, he was an RAF player in the H4H Rugby match at Twickenham but then he broke his back crashing into Afghanistan. Now he is looking forward to taking part in the cycling and swimming events. He reflects wryly that he has gone from being a supporter to one of the supported. No-one could have predicted that strange twist of fate but he’s tackling the challenge and looking forward.
Jennifer is a doctor, not was, is a doctor. She’s in a wheelchair after suffering nerve damage but she is both doing the job she loves and caring for her daughter. Oh, did I mention she was one of the Arch to Arc team that ran, swam and cycled to Paris?
At the Virgin reception, we were treated to the first rendition of Gareth Malone’s latest song performed by his choir of Heroes. It was wonderful to see that the singers included Simmie and Bernie, former residents of Tedworth House, not taking part in sporting events this time but still very much a part of the Invictus Games and just as nervous and excited as any athlete.
I know I’ve said this before but they are all 'just blokes’; modest, self effacing and often funny. No one I talked to showed any bitterness, they are all grateful to have this chance to compete and to meet the challenges of their changed lives. They will all have their nightmares but for today they were looking forward to the Invictus Games and to taking home some medals.
As we sat on the train going home, I reflected on how lucky I am. Not just to be alive and well, with at least some of my mental faculties intact, but to have been given the chance to do my bit to help some extraordinary people like ‘our blokes’. I am privileged to be part of a great team, a team that starts with the first aider or medic, includes the aircrew, the hospital staff, the welfare teams, the rehab specialists, the charities, the colleagues, the partners, the supporters, the volunteers and You. In fact everyone who is a part of this great enterprise that together, helps rebuild lives.
The Invictus Games will be a wonderful showcase for the few selected athletes and will inspire thousands more to tackle the challenges that life will bring. Sport is a part of Recovery but Recovery is about so much more than sport. It is about inspiring, enabling, giving opportunity, a helping hand, the right support when its needed to help individuals rebuild a fulfilling future. We can’t make everything better but we certainly can make a difference.
We are part of a great team that enables these extraordinary people to rebuild their lives and frankly, that is an honour and an extraordinary privilege. Thank you for being a part of that great team.
Onwards and Upwards!