Invictus Games Gives Wounded Canadian Soldiers A New Sense of Purpose
Photo: Getty Images
As Prince Harry brings his Invictus Games to Toronto, servicemen and women are given a new sense of purpose.
The returning soldier—physically wounded, emotionally stricken and unable to adjust from the theatre of war to the reality of life—is a theme explored by many of the best books and films on war. From the bleak alienation of Hemingway’s Nick Adams to the heroic struggles of the characters in The Best Years of Our Lives to the haunted outcasts of The Deer Hunter, each dramatizes the eternal quandary: how can we help the men and women who’ve served in the military re-establish themselves back into everyday life?
While we cheer our troops as they go off to war, admire their bravery on the battlefield and salute their sacrifice when they’re killed in action, far too often we simply ignore veterans who return home scarred from battle. Having served their purpose, the military jettisons them back into the foreign landscape of civilian life, leaving many struggling to cope with injury, depression and unemployment, which can lead to substance abuse and suicide. We avert our eyes from these uncomfortable reminders of the horrors of war, leaving them and their families to fight their personal battles on their own.
Although he would likely scoff at the suggestion, retired corporal Phil Badanai, a 44-year-old ex-soldier wounded in action who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), has experienced this familiar fate.
In 1992, Badanai joined the Royal Canadian Regiment right out of high school. Two years later, when most of his peers would be partying in college, the 21-year-old found himself serving in a peacekeeping mission in Croatia, then one of world’s hottest battle zones.
“My partner and I were coming back from escorting some engineers from an observation post when we ran into about 25 Serb soldiers on the road,” says Badanai. “They opened up fire on us. I got hit twice, my partner seven times. I managed to drive back to the medical station about 20 kilometres away,” he recalls, in the matter-of-fact way military people often use when describing what to us would be the most harrowing of experiences.
Badanai served two more tours in Bosnia and later remustered with the Air Force, becoming a firefighter. But his dreams haunted him, and he could never escape the psychological effects of having been shot—in 2004, he was diagnosed with PTSD and, in 2008, he was released for medical reasons.
Still a young man, he was suddenly thrust back into civilian life, struggling with his condition and trying to adapt to life outside of the armed forces. “I grew up in the military—they’re the ones who raised me. To leave that was hard. It was all I’d known.”
Although he was lucky to land a good job—he now serves as a fire safety inspector at Bombardier Aerospace in Toronto—he still hasn’t fully accepted the nine-to-five lifestyle. “It’s just not the same,” he says. “I miss being cold and miserable and everything sucking. All my best stories start with me being cold and miserable … and getting shot at. Call me weird, but that’s what I miss.”Phil Badanai trains for wheelchair tennis. Photo: Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services.
Learning to live with the horrific memories of the shooting, not to mention the shrapnel still lodged in his back, has been an frustrating process. He’s constantly aware something’s missing: “The group, the camaraderie, the military attitude are all missing. I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
It’s the plight of countless vets like Badanai that prompted Michael Burns to do more to improve the lives of the men and women who had sacrificed so much to serve our country.
“About a decade ago, a friend of mine, Peter Dawe, lost his son Matthew [one of four Dawe boys serving in the military] to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. On the drive home from the funeral, I thought long and hard about what I wasn’t doing to support our military families.”
Armed with a background in marketing and financial technology start-ups, Burns co-founded the True Patriot Love Foundation (TPL), a national charity that would raise money for military families. Encouraged by the outpouring of support after its first fundraising event, using TPL as a driving force, Burns put in a bid for the 2017 Invictus Games, a competition created by Prince Harry that uses the power of sport to help ill or injured servicemen and women on their journey to recovery.
The prince launched the inaugural Invictus Games in London in 2014. Modelled on the U.S.-based Warrior Games, the Games pitted active duty and service members from allied countries in adaptive sporting contests.
The motivation behind these games came from Prince Harry’s experience as an officer in the British forces. For years after the tragic death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, Harry searched and finally found a mission that gave him purpose in life, serving as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, which included airlifting injured troops to hospital. “I convinced myself for 10 years that, while I was there, I was one of the lads. I was doing a job and I had a role.”
In Afghanistan, he wasn’t shielded from the ugly face of war. “I ferried horribly injured troops to hospital,” Prince Harry told the British press. “How, I thought, do you ease their trauma and give new meaning to their shattered lives? Then it hit me—sport.”
Invictus Games Scorecard
- The third Invictus Games will be held in various venues around Toronto from Sept. 23 to 30. The opening ceremony will be streamed live on Facebook (@invictustoronto).
- More than 550 competitors from 17 allied nations will take part in the sporting events.
- The sports are open to ill, wounded and injured active duty and veteran service members. Each competitor is able to bring two family members or friends, all expenses paid.
- Canada will field a team of 90 athletes, led by co-captains Natacha Dupuis (competing in track and field and rowing) and Simon Mailloux (competing in track and field and sitting volleyball).
- Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded for each competition.
- Canada won 22 total medals at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando. The overall winner was the U.S. with 145 in total.
- The Toronto Games involve 11 adaptive sports, including archery, athletics (track and field), cycling, golf, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.
- Jaguar Land Rover is also sponsoring a driving challenge, testing the competitors’ ability to drive fast
- The federal government is contributing $17.5 million to support the games. The Ontario government will kick in $10 million.
Next year’s games will be held in Sydney, Australia.
- Support our military. Buy tickets at www.invictusgames2017.com/tickets.