Invictus Family

Celebrities, special guests, friends and families joined together at the Air Canada Centre to celebrate and welcome injured and ill service members and veterans from 17 different nations to Toronto for the 2017 Invictus Games

By Brittany Martin

Prince Harry speaks during the Opening Ceremony at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

A stadium full of people felt more like one big family Saturday night, as the third Invictus Games officially kicked off with the opening ceremonies at the Air Canada Center in downtown Toronto.

Bobbie Graham, wife of Team USA and Paralyzed Veterans of America Mid-Atlantic Chapter member Jesse Graham, watched the ceremony with her two 11-year-old daughters, Madisen and Makaylee. This is the family’s second trip to the Games, where Jesse Graham plans to compete in track events, swimming and wheelchair rugby.

“There’s amazing energy here,” Bobbie Graham says. “No matter where you’re from, who your competition is, you’re a competitor on the field or wherever, and then you’re family after.”

Rick Hansen, also known as the “Man in Motion” gives his speech during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

The celebration began with tears of joy, high fives and giant grins as 550 athletes from 17 nations entered to cheers from their supporters during the parade of nations.

“No matter what flag you wear on your uniform, you don’t fight wars alone,” says Invictus Games CEO Michael Burns. “You don’t defend the peace alone. You don’t come back from injury alone. When soldiers return home, it’s their families who are the front lines. They are ones who help them recover from traumas, seen and unseen.”

Other dignitaries, celebrities and musical guests, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Games ambassador and actor Mike Myers and singer Sarah McLachlan echoed that sentiment.

“In my house the number one lesson was those who serve our country deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, and so do their families,” Myers says. “For as long as their husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters have shared the pain of their loved one’s illness or injury, they have helped in their recovery and in their journey home. They have urged them to move forward to start new goals to achieve what once seemed impossible …I’m sure you all know how important it is to have a first mate, a crew and a family.”

Rick Hansen, known in Canada as the “Man in Motion,” took the microphone to express his gratitude to the servicemen and women who’ve paved the way for an accessible and inclusive world. Hansen was paralyzed at age 15 after being thrown from the back of a truck. He became a three-time Paralympian and also logged more than 24,854 miles pushing his wheelchair around the globe to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

“You give all of us who face challenges hope for a better life,” Hansen says. “Most importantly, I encourage you to feel the spirit of solidarity in this room and in this country … together we are stronger, and together anything is possible.”

England’s Prince Harry, who came up with the idea for the Games after witnessing the Warrior Games in the United States in 2014, offered some final words before the lighting of the torch.

“Invictus is about the dedication of the men and women who served their countries, faced hardship and refused to be defined by their injuries,” Prince Harry says. “Invictus is about the families and friends who face the shock of learning that their loved ones have been injured or fallen ill, and then running to support them on their journey to recovery. And above all, Invictus is about being an example to the world that all servicemen and women, injured or not, provide the importance of service and duty.

“In the days ahead, I know many of you will be experiencing Invictus for the first time. I hope you’re ready. I hope you’re ready for some fierce competition. I hope you’re ready to see the meaning of teamwork that proves anything is possible when we work together. I hope you’re ready to see courage and determination that will inspire you to power through the challenges in your own life. I hope you’re ready to see role models in action that any parent would want their children to look up to. And I hope you’re ready to see live change in front of your eyes.”

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