After four minutes of rowing, she’s crashed out on the floor at the Sports campus. But Victoria ‘Vicky’ Ross won the gold medal in the IR6 category. Despite the win she states they were the ‘worst four minutes of her life’. “Do you know that back home I’d rather put the rowing machine on its side in the shed? In fact, it’s no fun at all, I hate it.”
Her kids gather around her right after her hell ride. With a banner. They are not deterred by the image of their mother having to recover from the strenuous exercise. “We are so proud, we are so proud,” they say at least ten, maybe twenty times. At first Vicky doesn’t hear them. “You know I really thought I was going to die; I had the impression I couldn’t get enough air. It was a good thing my friend Kelly Leonard came to calm me down.”
Once back up Vicky knows she achieved her goals. “I went for a personal record, that was the plan. Winning the gold medal is a great bonus. But first and foremost, this was a test for me to overcome a mental hurdle.” She hates rowing and wants to emphasize that again. “I find it very hard to sit down on the machine. I love other sports; I do everything to improve my fitness. But really, rowing is an ordeal.”
Victoria Ross is determined during her Invictus journey to rediscover the person she once was. She says: “If you ask the people in my life who I am, they might say wife, mummy, friend or even soldier. If you ask ME who I am, I will say I’m physically, mentally and emotionally lost and lonely. I once was a high-level athlete in several sports, an outstanding soldier, the best mum and wife in the world, confident, outgoing, unstoppable and determined to succeed to the best at all I did.”
The 44-year-old Warrant Officer from Wiltshire competed in the Invictus UK trials in Sheffield, where she was part of the gold medal-winning team in wheelchair basketball. Victoria credits the trials as her first ‘steppingstone on the journey of a long road’.
Representing Team UK at the Invictus Games The Hague 2022 makes her proud. “This journey will give me focus, a sense of purpose; make me believe I can accomplish anything as I did before. That focus will bring physical benefits allowing me to explore my potential within this unfamiliar environment. Ultimately, I want to find my new identity, find my own self-worth, in turn helping those around me do the same, sharing the journey together. I want to be the one that defines me. I need my inner smile back and to kickstart the new me.”
And so, it’s with mixed feelings when we ask her if she would like to go to the Invictus Games in Düsseldorf in 2023. “Considering the great atmosphere, the great experience, I would definitely want to. The welcome in The Netherlands was great, we are all enjoying ourselves, the kids also. On the other hand, if I can’t go to Düsseldorf, it would mean I completed my journey; that I have overcome my problems. So ask me again in one year,” she decides, smiling, with her gold medal around her neck.
At first, he was afraid that playing sports would have a negative impact on his tattered body, but now playing sports makes it more bearable to cope with the injuries. Two years the Romanian Catalin Olteanu trained hard to be able to participate at the Invictus Games 2022.
Catalin was severely injured during a military deployment to Afghanistan. As a result of these injuries he has, amongst other things, a metal plate in his head, which still affects him daily. He quickly gets dizzy for example. During the past years this veteran found comfort in sports. Especially rowing, because this is reasonably painless and gives him peace of mind.
Although Catalin competes in four different sports during these Games, indoor rowing means most to him. Catalin learned to master the technique of rowing with the help of the Dutch veteran Johan van Etten. Johan competed twice at the Invictus Games and holds multiple indoor-rowing records.
“I saw someone who really wants to put an effort into rowing, but who didn’t quite know how to handle it,” Johan recalls when looking back on his first meeting with Catalin in November 2019,” he was very afraid that playing sports would have a negative impact on his body but wanted to try it anyway. That’s how he ended up at rowing.” At first, they had contact through pictures and videos Catalin sent and which Johan commented. Later, Johan visited Catalin. “We were able to improve his technique from just pulling on a machine to a pretty good rowing technique.”
From the moment he started rowing, the veteran participated in rowing competitions. Thus far only in Romania. These Invictus Games are the first international event where he is competing. While family and Johan cheer for him from the stands, Catalin is very proud to be able to represent Romania during these Games and is enthusiastic about the course of the event so far. “I love the Invictus family and feel a lot better now I am here and taking part. I hope I will be more able to look to the future from now on.”
He is not only the oldest participant in the South Korean team, but from all participants in this edition of the Invictus Games. At the age of 73, Kim Yoonkun participates in handbiking. And although he realizes that the chance is small that he succeeds, he will go for gold.Kim was injured in a very young age when he served during the Vietnam War. He lost both legs and has been in a wheelchair since that time. Despite his old age, he has been looking forward to this Invictus Games for two years, the first to which South Korea participates. “I want to show everyone that you can still reach a lot at this age, if you go through”, says Kim. “By exercising with this, I want to be an inspiration for others.
”The 73-year-old veteran has no shortage of energy. In the Zuiderpark he explores the trail for his first race on Friday on his hand bike. “Even though I know that there are many younger people to participate in the competition, I’m going for gold”, says Kim full of fighting spirit. “If it’s up to me, I continue to exercise for years.”Participation in the Invictus Games means a lot to Kim. “The event has a great meaning. Not only as a sporting event for the participants, but also beyond that it is of great value to bring this to the attention”, he says.
Although Kim had been injured for decades, he was repeatedly confronted with his own experiences in Vietnam during this Invictus Games. One of those emotional moments arose when he talked with a few members of Team Ukraine about the war that is currently raging in their country. “That was a special encounter. I have expressed my support, live with them. But after this conversation a lot came up with me.”
Friday Kim comes into action and he fights with young people with their handbicycles. That he is still capable at this age, he wants to thank his wife for. She has been very supporting, solving troubles. “I wouldn’t have achieved this all without her.”
Because of all the school she would be missing, she initially did not plan on going to The Hague. Then she realized it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. When her sister’s work prevented her from making the trip, Camilla decided to join her mother and fly from Iowa to The Netherlands. Camilla’s father is competing in the Invictus Games. “The energy from all the teams is amazing, it is so much fun to be here’’, she says. She looks around to point at the Friends and Family of Team France, team US’ opponents at the Wheelchair Rugby that afternoon. They wave back at her.
She continues: “There is no drama at all. Everyone is having fun with everyone, there is no bad blood between anyone.” She pauses for a bit and looks around. “Everyone is supporting everyone, no matter what team they’re on.” This is something that Andrew Holliday, another athlete of Team US who just watched the match, and his girlfriend confirm: “These are my first Invictus Games. And seeing the camaraderie is amazing. Seeing all the countries wrapping their arms around each other, regardless the outcome, just supporting each other. That is probably my favorite part.
”Being here also brings Camilla in contact with other children of veterans. Even though she did not specifically realize it before, she appreciates that. “It is actually really nice, getting to know all these people from around the world. I’m from Iowa, I know no one like that over there. Right now, here, I’m meeting hundreds and hundreds of new people every day. That is something that will never happen again.
”She also sees an added value of the Invictus Games for people with no military connections. “Being here shows the mental and the physical part of everything. People can see how the competitors’ lives have changed. Being able to play the sports they want to play and may not have been able to do before is so great for them. It really helps them with their mind and their body.”
Justyne Michalewicz and her daughter Karolina traveled from Poland to follow their husband and father and to cheer for him from the stands. At the same time the games for them are an extraordinary experience as well. “It’s wonderful to meet people who all have similar experiences with someone in their family,” Karolina says.
Zdzislaw was deployed for six times and was in different countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. During these Games he will be competing in different sports, including archery, swimming and indoor rowing. He can always count on the support from his wife and daughter from the stands.
Justyne and Karolina are enthusiastic about what they have experienced the last couple of days. “Participating in this event means a lot to my husband,” Justyne tells us. “Sport plays an important role in his life nowadays. It helps him with processing and coping with the things he experienced during his six deployments.”
The South Korean-team at the Invictus Games received an unexpected visit on Wednesday morning. In the Nations Home, the Dutch footballcoach Guus Hiddink waited for them. In 2001 and 2002, Guus was national coach of the South Korean footballteam and reached unprecedented results with this team at the World Cup.
Non-mindoring the Korean athletes and gathered family members come to the Nations Home for a ‘special surprise’, as the visit of the former national coach has been processed in their program. The enthusiastic reception of the South Korean-team cannot have escaped the other attendees in the Nations Home. With loud enthusiasm Guus Hiddink is received. “Everyone recognized me, even the young people who can’t remember the World Cup of 20 years ago.
”The former national coach did not have a second to think when he was asked to meet the South Korean -team at the Invictus Games. “I have a connection with many countries, but that with South-Korea is extra special for me. Koreans are very open people, with a lot of emotion.” Guus Hiddink had a conversation of an hour and a half with both family members and competitors. “These people go one hundred percent for something. Even though they have a handicap, such as these competitors. If I see them so, they are packed with energy.”
It wasn’t that things were quiet at the Sportcampus, because during the indoor rowing competition at the Invictus Games it’s a verbal pandemonium. But when there was a moment of quietness, you could hear his name being whispered. After all, the students who were present all know who he is. And tried to grab his attention by calling his name: Mark Rutte, Mark Rutte! The prime minister smiled but did not let it distract him.
His focus was first and foremost on the rowing competition, attentive to the Dutch representatives. On the stands he was brought up to speed by the coaches from Team Netherlands. Afterwards he shook (often still wet) hands with every competitor wearing an orange shirt. Some could only smile, tired from the exercise. Others had a whole story to tell.Wednesday morning Rutte paid a visit to the Invictus Games. He was given a tour around the event, met with the organizing team of the Invictus Games 2023 which will be held in Düsseldorf and awarded different medals at the rowing competition. At the Sportcampus he also spoke with VeVa college students (VeVa stands for Veiligheid en Vakmanschap, which means Safety and Expertise) from Doetinchem. These students use the education as a steppingstone to get a job in the military.
Earlier this week Rutte already paid a visit to the Zuiderpark to attend the opening ceremony. During the ceremony he held a speech. In his speech he proved to be sensible and acknowledge the most important people attending. Although he welcomed all his co-dignitaries to The Hague, his attention was first and foremost with the competitors. ” You are most important. In the run-up to these Invictus Games I saw posters and billboards with contestants on them, that invited us to listen to your unique stories. Those stories tell us about resilience, about the ability to stand up after misfortune, but also about vulnerability and the power of sport to overcome hardship.
”Rutte’s call to cheer for the teams the upcoming week in The Hague, especially for the Ukrainian Team, led to much support from the crowd.
In the venue, online, but also -as Rutte told Wednesday at the indoor rowing- on the streets he got many reactions about the opening ceremony of the Invictus games. “I was addressed about it a lot the past days. About my speech, about the ceremony, about the broadcasts afterwards. Many people endorsed the importance of an event like this, told me that thanks to the ceremony they truly understand what it is all about for this group of people. That the story about healing through sports appeals to them. That is why we as The Netherlands organize this event,” says Rutte, who also emphasized being impressed by the physical and mental achievements during indoor rowing. “Those contestants are all winners, every single one of them.”