The Invictus Games inspires recovery through the power of sport and in keeping with that mission presented a unique opportunity for all the competing nations to learn from each other how best to support their wounded warriors.
On the penultimate day of the Games, while competitors challenged themselves to win medals, delegates from all 13 participating nations joined recovery experts, charities and injured personnel at the iconic ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a different kind of challenge – to share experiences and help each other improve the recovery process.
And it was HRH Prince Harry, champion of the Invictus Games, who set the mission as he addressed the summit. “It’s important to be honest and hopefully we can all learn from each other.” He said.
The prince who launched the Games added: “This summit is an opportunity to get everybody together. It just makes sense to encourage us all to share experiences. I have spoken to some of the competitors who all have a huge range of abilities and disabilities. The differences in the way they are looked after are huge.”
Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory, Chief of Defence Personnel, spoke about the UK’s Defence Recovery process – which provides care for those with complex needs and prepares them either for a return to military duty or to civilian life.
James Rodriguez, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, spoke about the US’s Warrior Care Process, based around support through education, employment, income, health care, transportation and life satisfaction.
But it was a talk by the UK’s Invictus Team Captain Dave Henson MBE, and Sgt Ryan McIntosh, from San Antonio in Texas, both seriously injured in Afghanistan, which really highlighted the struggles all wounded, injured and sick personnel face – as they outlined what has and hasn’t worked.
Father of two, Sgt McIntosh who lost his right leg below the knee, when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010 but went on to win Gold, Silver and Bronze medals during the Games, talked about the need to educate children and the general public. He joked that he tells children that his prosthetic limb is his ‘transformer robot leg’: “It helps to diffuse the situation so they aren’t scared – after a certain stage in your recovery you can actually joke about your injury and be comfortable with yourself. This is acceptance of what has happened so you can move on.”
He also spoke about the affect his injury and recovery has had on his family and the importance of discovering a new purpose: “When I was injured, my first thought was ‘this can’t happen to me, I was supposed to be a father’. But I later realised I was still a father, so my purpose became my kids, and I aimed to walk and run again as fast as I could, so I could do it with them.
“I also realised that my wife lost a leg as well, because as much as she is there for me, I am there for her. I have bad days but so does she, and I need to support her. When I came home with my new leg she told me to take out the trash, ‘you may only have one leg, but the trash still needs to be taken out, and that’s your job’ she said.”
Speaking after the summit Sgt McIntosh spoke of his hope for the future and how the summit might help: “A summit like this is super powerful, the delegates have a lot of weight in their respective countries to be able to voice some of the concerns raised and to bring back the positives so they can build and improve their recovery programmes.”
Dave Henson also spoke about how attitudes have changed, because of events like The Invictus Games, which shine a light on injured personnel and the issues they face. “People stop looking at you as if you are weird, and instead want to hear your story.”
The Team GB captain, who himself won Gold in athletics lost both legs above the knee when he stood on an IED whilst serving with the Royal Irish Guards in Helmand in 2011.
“Every single injured person goes through something different, has a different experience, so it’s important to share all of those experiences to constantly improve the recovery support available to them.” He said.
Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory, who chaired the summit, spoke about the legacy he hopes the Invictus Games will leave and the opportunity it presented by getting all the competing nations around a table to discuss recovery. He said: “As well as giving individuals and teams the chance to shine, the Games mark the beginning of a legacy of collaboration. It provides the ideal opportunity for us to share experiences of how we deliver coordinated and long-term support for those who become wounded, injured or sick during their military service.
“We all approach recovery in a different way but I believe we all share a commitment to do the best we can for those who serve our respective nations.”