Michael Burns, Executive Director of the Invictus Games in Toronto, announced that Invictus, in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, will present the preliminary results of the first study on the role of adaptive sports in the rehabilitation of military personnel and their families.
According to Burns, the study “provides the basis for evidence-based policy to support the development of sports programs and events for injured soldiers and veterans in Canada and around the world.”
The first study of its kind
“This study is the first of its kind,” he added. “Never before has there been a comprehensive study of competitive sporting events developed for service members and veterans. The mission of the Invictus Games is to harness the power of sport to inspire healing, support rehabilitation, and create greater understanding and respect for those who have served their country and their loved ones. We are confident that Dr. Celina Shirazipour's research will help us understand whether the Invictus Games will succeed in this mission and get us to the finish line.”
Burns said the Invictus Games will use the power of sport to inspire healing, support rehabilitation and raise awareness of the unique challenges faced by those serving our country and their families.
“We offer more than just high-level sports competition,” he said. “Adaptive sports are also a very effective form of therapy for the soldiers who participate in these games. The games often bring together hundreds of competitors who train very intensively for months to reach their limits. These games inspire thousands of soldiers and veterans to maintain a positive attitude and strive to accomplish more than they thought possible.”
Shirazipour is leading a sport psychology study conducted by Dalhousie University and the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. The study will examine the role of competitive sport in promoting the psychological and social well-being of injured, ill or disabled soldiers and veterans and their families in the short and long term, before and after the Invictus Games.
The research team will interview 40 Canadian and international Invictus Games competitors, including the U.S. team and their families. Competitors will complete questionnaires about their experiences training and competing at the Games and the long-term impact of the Games. Athlete injuries range from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression to amputation and spinal cord or nerve injury.
This research provides a foundation for evidence-based program development and policy design to support the continued growth of sports programs and events for injured and disabled soldiers and veterans.
“The study will also examine how participation in sport can impact service members' and veterans' reintegration into society and their role in society,” Shirazipour said.
A transformative experience
“Sport is a transformative experience,” he said. “This transformative journey can be divided into three parts: training before the Games, the Games themselves, as here in Toronto, and life after the Games. When individuals are part of the team, they are motivated because they have a team behind them. It's a military mentality: “I can't let my team down. The change begins when they have to leave home, find a coach, learn how to train and become part of the team.
Shirazipour says the Games are also an opportunity for competitors, especially those from countries that do not support their military, to gain recognition and notoriety.
“People think, ‘Did they really come to see me compete and see my recovery and my sport?' It's really intangible,” he said.
Shirazipour also said that when competitors have the chance to represent their country again, they gain self-esteem and get back into the game.
“There are a lot of key things to learn in the initial training,” he said. “Some of them are the value of friends and family and the fact that competitors set goals for themselves. Invictus can provide a life-changing experience, motivation to continue and maintain psychological and social well-being.”
Army veteran Will Reynolds represented the United States at the Invictus Games in London in 2014, Orlando in 2016 and Toronto this year. He has also competed over the years in military events for the Department of Defense and has won numerous medals in track and field and cycling. He is an above-the-knee amputee.
“Research is important because it provides support and funding,” Reynolds said. “If we can prove empirically that it helps the people we know it helps, we'll see all the great success stories that come from it.” This only strengthens the support for veterans in all states and the military health services to continue to support it because it has such a great impact on the overall population.”
Reynolds said the Department of Veterans Affairs holds six national courses each year, including winter and summer sports courses. “They've been doing it for decades,” he said. “They see the benefits and they really want to continue to do this for veterans. The Invictus Games is even bigger in scope because it's international and it's for active veterans. So it's something else that reinforces the programs that they already benefit from a lot.”
The importance of Invictus
Britain's Prince Harry said he started the Invictus Games after attending the 2013 Soldier Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I am passionate about the Invictus Games. I'm passionate about the role that support can play in the recovery of the body and mind,” he said. “I'm passionate about the men and women of our armed forces who have served our country, and I'm passionate about the support and admiration of their families because they too have served.”
During his first visit to a military treatment center, the Prince said, “I saw firsthand how sports can help these men and women recover. I was amazed to see how the fiercest competition turns into respect, understanding and friendship after crossing the finish line.”
The Prince continued, “I've seen people give it their all on the field or in the pool, then embrace their rivals as if they were brothers in arms. When I saw that with my own eyes, I was convinced that we need to allow more wounded and ill soldiers to compete. We need to find a way to have a contest that will get the world's attention and inspire millions. That's how the idea for the Invictus Games came about.
Harry, who served in the British Army for 10 years, two of which were in Afghanistan, said he knew getting to the Invictus Games would not be easy for competitors.
“People find their motivation in many ways, but I don't think you can deny the impact of teamwork, competition and fun,” he said. “The wife of one of the American competitors thanked me as tears streamed down her face. She said, ‘My husband is on the [U.S.] team, and when he's with the team, I see him smile, a real smile. I cry because his smile is something we miss. Thank you for these games.
“We think the games really made a difference,” Prince said. “Competitors, their friends and families have told us that the games have not only changed lives, but saved lives. Of course, sport is not the only answer, but it is a powerful tool.”
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