Prince Harry says Invictus Games help 'smash stigma' around injured vets
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, May 2, 2016 4:37AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 2, 2016 3:18PM EDT
Prince Harry of Wales said a flight home from Afghanistan in 2008, alongside the coffin of a Danish soldier who died in combat and three young British soldiers with missing limbs, was part of his inspiration for the Invictus Games.
"This visceral image was something I never prepared myself for," Prince Harry told an audience at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel on Monday morning. "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."
Prince Harry is making several stops in Toronto Monday as part of the launch of the 2017 Invictus Games, which will take place at venues throughout the city next September.
The 31-year-old launched the games for injured service personnel and veterans after serving in the British Armed Forces for eight years, during which time he completed two tours of Afghanistan.
The games use sport and competition as a means of helping injured service members and veterans with their physical and mental recovery.
The inaugural Invictus Games took place in London in 2013.
"We created a platform which helped to smash the stigma that existed around (veterans’) injuries, particularly for those missing limbs, who showed that they weren't afraid to talk about their experience," Prince Harry said.
"We showed that veterans didn't need our sympathy, just the opportunity to play a meaningful role in society once again," he added.
Speaking of the 2017 games, Prince Harry said he's been promised that the Toronto event will be the "biggest and best Invictus Games yet."
Prince Harry thanks Toronto for embracing the Invictus Spirit & looks forward to the biggest games yet in Sept 2017. pic.twitter.com/UmR2y2C6Cw— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) May 2, 2016
Toronto will host the games from Sept. 26 to Sept. 30, 2017, when more than 600 competitors from 16 countries compete in 12 adaptive sports.
100 Canadians to compete in 2017 Invictus Games
An estimated 100 Canadians are expected to compete in the Toronto games, which will take place at Pan Am Games venues throughout the city.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also on hand for the Toronto Invictus Games launch which he said sparked memories of his own grandfather, former Liberal cabinet minister James Sinclair, who served in the Second World War.
"He shared with his family… that commitment to service, that commitment to country, that dedication to fighting in every possible different way for better," Trudeau said. "For a better world, for better outcomes."
Trudeau reminded the audience of his government’s commitment to re-open nine veterans' services centres that were shuttered under the previous Conservative government. He also spoke of his government's commitment to increase financial support to veterans and to the families of fallen soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government announced a $10 million commitment to support the Invictus Games during the launch event.
Trudeau said the Toronto games will provide an opportunity for Canadians to show their support for the men and women who serve their country.
"The moments of courage, of valor, of dedication, of drive that characterized your service, those moments of extraordinary strength happened without applause without family members to support you," he said.
"The Invictus Games will allow us… to pause and give you some of the applause," he added.
Canadian Armed Forces veteran and Ottawa City Councillor Jody Mitic made an emotional address during the Monday morning event, where he recalled losing both of his legs during a tour of Afghanistan.
"As soldiers, we feel invincible," he told the crowd. "But we know we aren't really invincible, and for some of us it becomes obvious in an instance."
He continued: "That explosion took more than flesh and bone, it took my identity as a soldier, the thing I loved the most."
Mitic said the games offer an opportunity for injured service personnel to heal.
Prince Harry to attend sledge hockey exhibition
Later in the day, Prince Harry is scheduled to attend a sledge hockey exhibition game with Trudeau at Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The 31-year-old will also attend a reception on Monday afternoon with Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell at Queen's Park.
Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter said Prince Harry has "poured his heart and soul" into getting the Invictus Games off the ground.
"It's about building these people who've suffered horrendous injuries on behalf of their country back," Arbiter told CTV's Canada AM on Monday. "He really wants to show the people and the competitors how much spirit they've got and how much support they've got."
After Harry's Toronto visit, he will be heading south to Orlando, Fla., where this year's Invictus Games will be held.
An estimated 30 Canadian veterans will be competing in the Orlando games.
Prince Harry drummed up awareness about the Florida games with in a video featuring his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
And Trudeau, despite not being named in the Twitter back-and-forth, joined in on the fun Monday in a video of him doing push-ups and “dropping the mic.”
In true Canadian fashion, the video was recorded in both English and French.