Making New Friends

New friendships are a big part of the Invictus Games experience

By John Groth

U.S. Army veteran Danny Dudek takes part in the cycling time trials during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by John Groth).

In only a matter of a couple hours, Danny Dudek made a pretty good friend – one maybe for life.

On a short bus ride to High Park for the Invictus Games handcycling time trials event Tuesday morning, the Team USA member and his newfound buddy, Temuri Dadiani from the country of Georgia, bonded.

An active duty U.S. Army colonel, Dudek sustained a spinal cord injury after his convoy was hit by an explosive device (IED) in Iraq. A corporal in the military, Dadiani, a double amputee, lost both his legs to a landmine in Afghanistan in 2011.

Prince Harry poses with medalists during a ceremony held at the Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

They shared plenty of laughs, jokes and stories during the bus ride and warming up. And it just continued even during the time trials.

“We had talked so much and had fun on the bus and then out here practicing,” says Dudek, an L3/L4 incomplete paraplegic and Paralyzed Veterans of America member. “So when we were crossing on the way back where the route kind of bends back on itself and you can see the people ahead of you kind of going, he yelled, ‘Come on!” to me, you know. And I was like, ‘You go!’, just encouraging each other.”

That’s what the Invictus Games is all about – encouragement, camaraderie and overcoming obstacles.

The Invictus Games reached their fourth day Tuesday, as military athletes competed handcycling time trials, golf, sitting volleyball and indoor rowing throughout venues in Toronto. Established in 2014 by Prince Harry, it’s the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded, ill and injured active duty and veteran service members. They use the power of adaptive sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generated a wider understanding and respect for the armed forces around the world, according to the Invictus Games website. More than 550 athletes from 17 countries are competing in this year’s Games, which run through Saturday.

Prince Harry attended events again Tuesday, arriving at handcycling, where crowds swarmed and took photos of him and he awarded medals to each of the athletes in the women’s and men’s recumbent bike time trial divisions.

Team USA member Gabby Graves-Wake earned a bronze medal in the women’s recumbent bike (IRECB1) time trial final, while Dudek finished eighth in the men’s handcycling IHB2 time trial final.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Prince Harry awarded medals for the Invictus Games’ newest sport addition – golf.

Italian golfer Roberto Punzo met Prince Harry while on the St. George’s Golf and Country Club course in Toronto and acknowledged, although he’d met Prince Harry before, it was still a great moment.

“It wasn’t the first time actually because there was also London. So … it was a lot of pictures. So yeah, a great day.”

As for Dudek, he had a pretty good day himself. Actually, he’s had a pretty good start to the week so far. Dudek competed in track events Sunday and Monday, earning a bronze medal in the men’s IT4 1,500 meters (5 minutes, 04.11 seconds), placing fourth in the men’s IT4 200 meters (39:58 seconds) and the men’s ITR 400 meters (1:22.15) and fifth in the men’s IT4 100 meters (21.95 seconds).

Dudek still has the handcycling criterium on Wednesday and swimming events later this week. He just met his 12-year-old niece, Ga In, who lives in South Korea, southwest of Seoul, for the first time at the Invictus Games. And he’s here with his wife, Megan.

“She’s the rock that I lean on. She is everything,” Dudek said. “All the good things that I do are on her shoulders really, on her efforts.”

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Brittany Martin contributed to this story.


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