ABOVE: Deonny in the kitchen at Figtree Conference Centre PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
The Invictus Games are open to competitors from all branches of the regular or reserve Armed Forces of participating nations who have become wounded, injured or ill during or as a direct consequence of their service. Deonny had the opportunity to work for the 2018 games in Sydney.
By Deonny Zaroual
I had the chance to work as a staff member of the Invictus Games in Sydney during October 2018. Later in this issue, I will tell you how I got the job and what sort of work I had to do. To begin with, though, I would like to discuss the experience of working for these wounded, injured or ill servicemen and women from all over the world.
There was a lot of security and secrecy, and there were no photos allowed and nobody actually spoke about it, but we always knew when Prince Harry was around or close by because of his body guards.
On the other hand Prince Frederick of Denmark came up to the buffet. I think he had the curry chicken. He heard us giggling when we recognised him and cracked a massive smile.
When assisting deaf people at the buffet, I learned that it is better for one hospitality assistant to stick with the same diner the whole time, so they are with a familiar person. People in wheelchairs, often get overlooked or even ignored. When working with people who have disabilities, you need to be mindful that you are not ignoring people. You need to look at everyone, including children, to show that they are not invisible to you!
Of course, we saw a lot of people who had physical injuries such as scars, or having no arms or legs. You want to show people that they are not invisible, but you don’t want to look like you’re just staring at people either. You need to be balanced.
As well as physical disabilities and injuries, a lot of people had invisible injuries, such as anxiety and depression that were brought on by warfare. There were soldiers who had tried to take their own lives, but thankfully had not succeeded. There were people who had developed alcohol and drug problems. Some had been injured by ‘friendly fire.’ One man had developed amnesia and could not remember anything before the war, not even his wife. They had a second marriage on the second last day of the games.
Some people were representing family members who could not actually participate. There was a lady who was participating on behalf of both her son and her husband, both of whom became ‘brain dead’ due to their injuries.
Another story that made me cry was about a little boy who had been killed along with his whole family by troops from his own side because he had befriended a soldier from the other side.
A lot of people did not speak English. There were interpreters, plus we gave them some lessons as well! Although they all seemed to enjoy Australia, there was not really enough time to go sight seeing. Some visited Bondi and the Blue Mountains. Everyone said ‘we’ll be back’, though.
It is very expensive for each person to participate. For example there is the athlete, the carer or wife or husband, the luggage, the equipment like wheelchairs, the team doctor or any other supporting people like psychologists and so forth. And of course everyone gets homesick.
Some athletes came from poor countries where they do not have access to prosthesies. They had to learn how to use prostheses specially for the games.
We heard a lot of the stories that the participants told, including some stories about the particular wars they were in. You could sense that there were still a lot of tensions.
“The Duke…saw the positive impact sport could have on the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, injured and ill servicemen and women.”
It was our job to help the athletes relax and enjoy themselves when they weren’t participating in events.
The Canadians- we spoke to so many Canadians- they loved their pancakes with maple syrup, but the Americans preferred Jelly donuts. The French were all smiles, but I’m not sure the Italians liked the way Australians do pasta, though! Some participants had separate food because of religious requirements.
The idea was to participate. One runner from Canada won everyone’s heart and had the crowds on his side even though I think he tended to come last in all his events. He would say to people ‘Hey, I’ve just had a shower, so can I have a hug?’
About the Invictus Games
The Invictus Games are open to competitors from all branches of the regular or reserve Armed Forces of participating nations who have become wounded, injured or ill during or as a direct consequence of their service.
“Most of us will never know the horrors of combat. Horrors so great that many servicemen and women suffer life-changing injuries, both visible and invisible, while serving their countries, while serving us. How do these men and women find the motivation to move on and not be defined by their injuries? How can we challenge perceptions and send a positive message about life beyond disability to an international audience? HRH The Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) not only asked but answered these questions.” (Invictus Games, 2018)
The Invictus Games were inspired by the Warrior Games held in the United States of America in 2013. The Duke of Sussex saw the positive impact sport could have on the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, injured and ill servicemen and women and decided to launch a similar event in London.
The first Invictus Games, in London, had 400 competitors from 13 Nations. The second games were in Orlando, Florida in 2016, followed by Toronto, Canada in 2017. 2018 was Sydney’s turn to host 500 competitors and 1000 supporters from 18 nations competing in 11 medal sports, plus participating in golf and wheel chair tennis. Some of the team badges Deonny collected are illustrated below. The 18 Nations represented in Sydney were:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
You can read the full details at the Invictus Games website