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Why the World Needs the Invictus Games

“Playing sport and competing has helped me, both physically and mentally. It has brought back some sense of normality into my day-to-day life...” Private Luke Jones

For the majority without a lived experience, it’s hard to imagine what it might be like to be deployed overseas, only to end up a below-the-knee amputee. For Private Luke Jones of the Australian Defence Force, this is reality.

As he prepares to compete in this year’s Invictus Games, however, Private Jones will keep his mind focused on the task ahead. He’ll be one of over 500 service personnel, from across the globe, ready to wage a battle of a different kind. As part of the Invictus Games Australian team, he’ll be competing in an international adaptive sports event, drawing crowds from far and wide. He’ll be challenging preconceptions and shaking up the status quo in the ultimate display of triumph over adversity.

Masters of their fate

Adorning t-shirts, signs, flags and other paraphernalia, the games’ catch cry of ‘I am’ is hard to miss. The word invictus is Latin for ‘unconquered’ – a worthy label for both the event itself, and the Invictus poem, the inspiration for the name.

Penned by William Ernest Henley in 1875, the poem explores the idea of courage in the face of difficult times.

“I am the master of my fate,” it concludes. “I am the captain of my soul.”

In 2013, Prince Harry saw this very principle in action as he cheered on participants at a similar sporting event called the Warrior Games in Colorado. As he saw wounded, ill and injured service personnel refuse to be beaten down by their circumstances, it gave him the germ of an idea. Wouldn’t it be great to have something just like this, but on a larger scale? The rest, as they say, is history: the Invictus Games was born.

Life after service

An armistice or peacetime treaty is always welcomed. But when war is over, life can suddenly become more complicated for those who have served.

When the First World War ended, it didn’t necessarily mean that Australians on the Western Front were able to return home immediately. Some were told to expect a wait of up to 12 months while the repatriation scheme ticked on through its first come, first go approach. Some took the chance to travel through Europe, while others were upskilled in an array of classes designed to prepare them for civilian life.

Today, there are several organisations that help to support service personnel – current and returned – and their families. Legacy was set up in 1923 by ex-servicemen, and hit the ground running in the post-WWI landscape.

But the effects of service can run deep, and in many ways can be insidious. On ANZAC Day last year, 27 year-old veteran Chris May spoke to the ABC about returning to civilian life after deployment in Afghanistan.

"It takes some tough love sometimes to help people get the help. But there is help there and it's realising you need it and getting it, they're the two biggest problems."

Along with his brother, May founded the Young Veterans, offering invaluable peer support to other young, returned servicemen and women.

The world needs the Invictus Games

It was 1941, and Britain was in the midst of World War Two, when Winston Churchill made one of his most famous speeches. “Never give in,” he implored his audience. “Never give in, never, never, never, never...”

There is hardly a worthier message to be held on to than this one. Service personnel or civilians, as masters of our own fates and captains of our souls, not giving up is arguably our biggest responsibility.

That’s why an event like the Invictus Games is so critical. It’s a very timely reminder of just how much human beings are capable of – which is to say, a lot.

The Invictus Games 2018 will be held in Sydney from October 20-27.

Preview image of  medals by Sergeant Rupert Frere, RLC, September 11th, 2014. Click here to view license information.