Injured veterans who want to take part in Invictus Games in Sydney have been working on their physical fitness for several months now. Official presentation of 15 competitors took place during central Veteran Day celebrations in Kielce.
The 4th edition of the Games will host about 500 people from 18 different countries. This year, the representatives of Poland will compete for the first time. The Games will feature competition in 11 sport disciplines. The organizer of this international event is the Royal Foundation, a charity established by the British Prince Harry. “Invictus Games demonstrate the tremendous power of sport. They also inspire other injured veteran soldiers to join the next edition, which will take place in May 2020 in The Hague, the Netherlands,” emphasizes Col Leszek Stępień, Director of the International Mission Veteran Centre, which organizes the trip of our representatives to Sydney.
The Veteran Center received 83 applications from injured, wounded and sick veterans who wished to take part in the Games. The commission, composed of the representatives of all branches of the armed forces selected 25 people to compete in the Games. The decision was based on the results of medical examinations conducted during the first, April meeting at the Military Training and Fitness Center in Mrągowo. Later, the commission gathered for the second time, and, after taking into consideration the opinions of doctors and trainers, selected the final representation of Poland – 15 injured veterans and ten reserve ones.
It seems that the basic criterion considered by the commission was the degree of health damage, since the level of disability of most selected applicants was determined as moderate or marked. “We also wanted the competitors to represent all institutions and branches of the armed forces,” emphasized Col Leszek Stępień.
The competitors will take part in two more sport meetings at the Military Training and Fitness Centre in Mrągowo to prepare for Invictus Games. However, they are also working on their own, as well as in physical education classes. “Three injured veterans serving at the Operational Command of the Branches of the Armed Forces have been training with our coach for several weeks now,” says Renata Matynia, specialist for the wounded and injured at the Operational Command of the Branches of the Armed Forces.
Sport disciplines in which injured, wounded and sick veterans compete during Invictus Games change depending on the country where they are organized. In Sydney, sportsmen will compete in archery, light athletics, power lifting, indoor rowing, road cycling, sailing, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, and others. Each competitor can take part in several disciplines.
Janusz Raczy is a soldier severely injured during the second rotation of the Polish Military Contingent in Iraq. In Sydney, he wanted to compete in archery, and try his luck in road cycling. He knew that his injuries ban him from strength sports, such as indoor rowing or bench presses. Doctors and trainers verified his plans, though. “I had to give up archery because of my shattered shoulder. It turned out that I am not able to draw back the string, or even hold the bow for that matter. I had to change the discipline, but the injuries I suffered during the mission spread rather evenly across my whole body. I was left with swimming, although my left shoulder has a limited range of motion. I’m not quitting, though, I keep training,” says Janusz Raczy. He wants to challenge his disability at Invictus Games. “A medal would be a wonderful reward, but it’s not the most important thing,” emphasizes the veteran.
The Polish representation is being prepared for Invictus Games Sydney 2018 by trainers of the Polish Sports Association for the Disabled “START”. They train soldiers in several disciplines, such as sitting volleyball, swimming, archery, rowing, cycling, light athletics, and weight-lifting. “We are proud to be a part of such an important project,” says Łukasz Szeliga, the President of START. Col Stępień underlines that they are the best coaches to prepare people with disabilities for international competitions, including our paralympians. Łukasz Szeliga hopes that those who are going to compete in Invictus Games will also participate in various disciplines in Polish Championships or the Cup of Poland for people with disabilities, and in the future possibly represent Poland at the Paralympics. “Many paralympic medalists from the USA and Great Britain are former soldiers,” adds Łukasz Szeliga.
Jarosław Kurowski, who lost his leg during a mission in the Balkans in 1996, will compete in Sidney in swimming, cycling and sitting volleyball. He says that he has always liked sport and rivalry, he is not a stranger to intensive physical training. Some years ago, he took part in the Spitsbergen Arctic Expedition 2014. “Trekking across glaciers proved to me that disability doesn’t have to be an obstacle in taking on even the most exhilarating challenges, also physical,” he emphasizes.
Another serviceman going to Sydney is Mariusz Saczek, confined to a wheelchair due to his damaged spine. He wants to participate in Invictus Games to prove himself. During the camp in Mrągowo, he presented great strength of his arms and skillfulness in handling a bow. “I tried my luck in various disciplines, but my best result was in archery. I scored 37 out of 40 possible points in four shots at the distance of 20 m. I feel the most confident in this discipline,” he says. He is also thinking about discus throw.
Power of Support
The Polish Armaments Group (PGZ) is the strategic partner of the Polish representation of veterans at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 sport and rehabilitation competition. The company will sponsor, inter alia, the stay of caretakers and family members of injured veterans competing in the Games, and cover the participation cost of veterans from outside the MoND (two severely injured veterans no longer serve in the army).
Friends and family will join the competitors at Invictus Games. They are going to cheer them on during sport events. The injured veterans unanimously state that “their presence at the Games is a thank you for staying by our side during the long rehabilitation process.”
Translated by DOROTA ASZOFF
autor zdjęć: plut. Patryk Cieliński