Whatever great things may come this week, it cannot be any more beautiful than this Sunday. Maybe never. The Danish IG competitor Lasse Jakobson and his girlfriend Karina Cronborg agree to this. “This is the epitome”, says Karina, as she is looking at the ring on her finger. “I did not dare to dream this.”
Lasse Jakobson had thought it over in the run-up to the Games. He would ask Karina in The Hague to marry her. “Because she is the only one who gets along with me. She understands me, knows that my PTSD can be in my way and that it has to come out every know and then.” The couple is the living proof that the support of family and friends are extremely important to militaries. Understanding for their situation is important on the way to recovery.
For one year now, they are a couple. But for Karina things were clear already: “We understand each other totally. From the beginning I had no doubt whatsoever. On the contrary: I asked him a couple of times when he would propose to me. That it would happen here I did not expect at all.
”On the edge of the volleyball field the proposal caused a lot of emotions. Competitors from other countries congratulated the couple right away, pictures were taken by people from all over the world. Lasse talks to us only one hour after his sit volleyball game. Right before he did an interview with the Dutch broadcast organisation NOS. About his proposal and about his tattoos. Lasse is one of the competitors of the Invictus Games who took part in a serie of stories we made about tattoos.
On Saturday, Lasse already did the Land Rover Driving Challenge, later this week he will participate in the rowing competition. With his six colleagues from the Danish team he wasn’t able to form a complete team for the sit volleyball competition, and that is why he is in a mixed team: ‘Unconquered’ in Invictus terminology, with some Brits and Australians. Lasse:” That is actually the reason why I came. To meet colleagues, fellow sufferers also, from other countries. It is very nice to talk with them about their situation and how they cope with it. That we are one team now is so great; you don’t need to look for conversation partners.”
Today, Lasse and Karina look back with great pleasure on the opening ceremony which took place Saturday. “We were very impressed by it. Particularly the entrance of and support for the Ukrainian team made me emotional”, says Lasse. “Most of us have been to a war zone once or multiple times but knowing that you eventually go back home to your safe environment. For them, their home is not a safe place anymore and that is terrible.”
Kerrie Tessier from Team Australia competes in no less than five different sports during these Invictus Games. Her most important motivation to take part. “It’s an opportunity for me to get mentally and physically stronger.”
The injuries Kerrie suffered during her line of duty lead to medical discharge in 2016. Soon after her discharge she started studying medicine at university without taking time to put the events to rest.
She only came to realize this when she saw fragments of the Invictus Games in 2018, which took place in Sydney at the time. “I was so inspired by the athletes. They were all so happy”, is she looking back to that moment. “It gave me so much energy. On that moment I realized participating would be an opportunity for me to get mentally and physically stronger.”
Now, four years later, Kerrie will participate in multiple sports. For her and her teammates it was nerve-racking until the very last moment whether they could travel to The Hague because of the pandemic. “Unfortunately, one of my co-athletes tested positive and had to stay at home. But he’s on the plane now and will join us tomorrow.”
Although the Games just started, and Kerrie competed in only a few events yet, she is impressed by the things she has seen so far. “During the opening Ceremony we were right behind Team Ukraine. It was so exciting to see all countries dedicating their support. That was really incredible.”
Geert Nielsen (51) is a debutant at the Invictus Games as a sitting volleyball player and cyclist. Originally he was preparing for archery, but when it became possible to play volleyball – in a mixed team with players from the United Kingdom and Australia – he quickly switched. His height is 1.93m, very suitable for normal volleyball, but he can also stretch further than his teammates while sitting.
Geert served four years. Two years after a mission in the Balkans, he was supposed to be deployed again, but in 2008 he collapsed and ended up in hospital. He was ashamed of it and took up extreme sports as an ultra-endurance runner. “And then I was stupid enough to start using cocaine”, the veteran says guiltily. “I saw no other way out than suicide.” He made two attempts to do so.
In 2018 things changed. With the diagnosis (PTSD) and the right medicines, he was able to climb out of the deep valley. Not easy. He describes the route “…as if I had to learn to walk again.” He now realized that there is still a lot to live for at home. He has discovered a therapy to clear his head: cycling, five or six times a week, with average distances well over 50 kilometers. His record is a bike ride of 520 km in 18 hours. Without drugs.
He had met Jens Lunde at a cycling event for veterans. “I wouldn’t be here without him”, he says. “He alerted me to this event. But if he hadn’t gone with me to The Hague, I wouldn’t have been able to do this either.” During competitions, Geert dances and plays on the audience. Remarkable, because he was afraid of crowds. After a medical consultation, the medicines have recently been reduced, but when he felt stress again last week, he agreed with his doctor to take a sedative pill if necessary.
The volunteers at the Invictus Games Stadium who she coordinates, characterize Gabriela Doeswijk (39) from Rotterdam as ‘From Argentina’. And yes, she was indeed born on a farm in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Her mother is Argentinan, her father Dutch. She is a sports fan who also had to prepare herself mentally for her role during the Invictus Games.
She speaks Spanish and English fluently, but during the conversation she jumps to perfectly Dutch quite soon. Like she has never spoken anything else. Her favorite sports were running and volleyball. She speaks in the past tense because her knees, despite two surgeries, are currently too weak to run. She still wants to help during sport events and in particular during the Invictus Games. Maybe this will be healing for herself too.
Quite hesitant she starts telling that she, a positive and active woman, never thought she would develop a depression. A combination of medical problems of her parents, huge workload and the urge to help everyone proved to be too much for her. “I thought of getting a month off, but it has been three years since then,” says Gabriela, who felt ‘like a failure’. “Nobody saw anything unusual, that is what made it extra hard.”
She thinks it is sheer luck that she is assigned to help at the stadium where the sit volleyball competition takes place. The team bond is much stronger than she ever experienced. The collective and individual willpower have made a big impression on her. For her it is a test to see if she is up to the role of coordinator. Before she already helped at the Rotterdam Marathon, the triathlon and beach volleyball. She has to know and guard her personal boundaries and express them in time. Originally, she had put herself on the list for five days to volunteer. But she brought it down to three, with some days off in between. That way her return will be quicker and better!
Most sportsmen and women can count on the unconditional support of their family and friends during these Invictus Games. One of them is Michael Murphy from Team USA. During the Games he is accompanied by his girlfriend Carrie Pressot.
Just like her boyfriend Michael, Carrie is an Army veteran. “In America we prepared ourselves together for these games,” tells Carrie. “Michael and I trained a lot together and we worked up to this event together.”
Although Carrie does not compete at these Games herself, this event has an important meaning to her as well, being a veteran. “It also helps me overcome. It’s so inspiring to watch these guys,” she says after the finish of an athletics competition, where she and Michael and other team members from Team USA cheered for “a compatriot and the other contestants.”