The biggest highlight of the first day of the Invictus Games was, of course, the opening ceremony. A lightning-fast show, in which moving stories were interspersed with lots of music, caused enthusiasm and emotions among the 5000 attendees. The first sporting event of the Invictus Games was held in the morning: the Land Rover Driving Challenge. France won the event, but the British participants felt just as good about it: ‘We had to wait a long time for it, but the Invictus Games have started!’ Meanwhile, hundreds of volunteers also manned the various activities at the busy Zuiderpark. The highlights of day 1.
For most participants the Invictus Games start after the opening ceremony of Saturday evening, but Dan Phillips and Lisa Johnston were already allowed to go on Saturday morning. The two clearly liked that. “The last three year lasted very long, we really looked forward to this day.’’
The two represented United Kingdom in the already quiet busy Invictus Games Park at the Land Rover Driving Challenge. The participants have to complete a challenging obstacle parcours with a hail new and shiny white Defender. Precision and control go hand in hand with steering skills. The role of the navigator is also of a large importance. ‘’We formed a wonderful team’’, says Dan. Lisa laughs: “As long as he did what I wanted him to do, it went well.’’ They had to get used to it. In England the steering wheel is on the other side. ‘The wrong way’ we say on the mainland, ‘no the right’ according to Dan and Lisa.
Dan sits in a wheelchair. He got an injury on his spinal cord in Afghanistan. “I can still use my right leg enough to drive a car.’’ Thanks to the Invictus Games, he could overcome his PTSD and fears. Former army corporal Lisa was constantly in pain. She hoped to get her life back with an amputation of her left leg. “But my fitness then became even less and I had trouble with it when people stared at me. I had no longer a goal, did not want to go outside, lost my motivation.’’
From the moment she enthusiastically picked up sports, it quickly went better with her. “But the last two years, with barely possibilities to do some exercises, were a nightmare of course. I was particularly busy with home education for my children.’’ Dan can still remember that as well. “I don’t know if you have ever tried to row or bench press with a small child in your neck, but that doesn’t really work, no.’’
Lisa: “That’s why I’m so glad we are finally real. Dan was already a participant in Sydney in 2018, but I debute her. I am almost surprised at how easy you, despite the sometimes present language barrier, make contact with participants from other countries. That is really very inspiring.’’
Don’t think that the Invictus Games are already over for both of them. On the contrary. They both still have a well-filled program. Lisa participates in athletics, swimming, rugby and rowing. Dan also plays wheelchair rugby and -basketball. He rows and rolls on the athletics track both 100, 200, 400 and 1500 meters. “We don’t have to get bored’’, he smiles. Lisa mainly looks forward to the athletics. “I like wheelchair rugby most. But for me, since I have a prosthesis, running is a big challenge. My children always see me trying to manage the household, but have never seen me run. I want them to be proud of their mother.’’
Dan and Lisa did not reach the final of the Land Rover Driving Challenge. The teams of France and Romania were in that final. The French won. Georgia became third. They will get there medals at the opening ceremony.
Richard is one of hundreds of volunteers deployed during the Invictus Games. On the opening day he assisted at the so-called Hug Wall. Anyone can leave can leave a message on this wall with a marker, for the Invictus community for example, but also for his or her loved ones.
Richard: “I received an invitation from my sports education to become a volunteer. When I heard more about the Invictus Games and got to hear the stories about the athletes, I grew a lot of respect and admiration for their perseverance, strength and mentality. It’s nice to see them fight. I think they are worth committing to and in this way I want to help the organization to realize a great event.”
“So today I’m at the Hug Wall. People can leave a message here. Many then take a picture with each other, or make a selfie. By the way, I am deployed throughout the week at the various side events that are organized during the Invictus Games.”
“I am counting on a lot of emotion, both from the participants themselves and from the spectators. Everyone has been looking forward to this beautiful event for a long time. I also expect to see great performances, but above all a lot of mutual sportsmanship.”
“I enjoy seeing athletes with a physical or mental disability overcome themselves. It will no doubt touch me when I see them in action and they try to achieve their best personal performance.”
The Invictus Games The Hague 2020 presented by Jaguar Land Rover have begun. With a multimedia show full of music, dance and beautiful opening words Saturday evening – after a delay of two years due to the Covid19-pandemic – the kick-off was given for a week sporting fraternization of an international group of 500 injured, sick and recovered soldiers and veterans from 17 countries.
The nearly 5000 spectators in the mobile theater, which was specially built for this occasion, were treated, among other things, to performances by the Royal Military Chapel ‘Johan Willem Friso’, Anneke van Giersbergen, a drum band of the navy, police and reservists, DI-RECT and the British band Kaiser Chiefs. The Avantgarde dance group acted during the various performances.
The twelve-year-old Zoey, daughter of participant Joyce van den Waardenburg, carried out the Invictus poem of the British poet William Ernest Henley.
Naturally, during the opening ceremony there was a lot of room for the story of Invictus participants and their family members. They where in the centre during the ceremony, and in the speeches of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Duke of Sussex, the patron of the Invictus Games Foundation, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
A symbolic lifeline, similar to the heart rate on a monitor in the hospital, played an important role in the opening show. In the life of the Invictus participants, in particular, sports, and the beneficial effect thereof, stands for that lifeline. After a conversation by Hans Ploegmakers and Renee Krist about the loss of loved ones followed a moment of silence involving missing colleagues. A yellow, empty chair in the stadium symbolized the absence of those who should never be forgotten.
Naturally there was special attention to the participants from Ukraine. The Duke of Sussex emphasized in his speech that the participating countries are as one man behind the Ukrainians. They have to do with a horrible situation, but traveled to The Hague to tell the world their story. The Ukrainian flag was the first entering the stadium.
Many dignitaries attended the opening ceremony. Among them HER Royal Highness Princess Margriet der Nederlanden. She is honorary president of the committee of recommendation of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020.