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Britain’s Prince Harry and first lady Michelle Obama kicked off the Invictus Games Orlando for servicemen, women, veterans and their families with uplifting speeches on Sunday night.
The two-hour event at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World included performances by British singer James Blunt and soprano Laura Wright. Actor Morgan Freeman and former president George W Bush, honorary chairman of this year’s games, also appeared for the ceremonial start of the games at Champion Stadium.
The Invictus Games harness the power of sport to support rehabilitation, inspire recovery and ultimately to enable those taking part to move beyond their illness or their injury. Nearly 500 athletes from 14 different countries are competing in the Paralympic-style sports competition over a four-day period beginning Monday.
The Invictus Games are the creation of Prince Harry, who got the inspiration to help wounded and sick military personnel and their families after his two tours of duty in Afghanistan. The inaugural Invictus Games were held in London in 2014 and saw 400 competitors from 13 countries take part.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to have the second Invictus Games open in America,” Prince Harry said speaking from his heart. “I’m a long way from London tonight, but when I look out, I see so many familiar faces, servicemen and women, their friends and their families and all of the people who got them here. I feel like I’m at home.” Prince Harry says he hopes the Invictus Games will “inspire people” affected by mental illness to seek help.
The evening began with the United States national anthem and a US Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 34 Flyover that roared overhead in a tight formation of four jets.
The crowd was then treated to the sight and sound of the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, whose members wear period uniforms from the late 18th century, similar to those of the musicians of General George Washington’s Continental Army. The black and yellow “I Am” flag, which has become the symbol of the Invictus Games, was then flown by helicopter into the stadium. Participants dressed in their nation’s colors then marched into Champion Stadium to a standing ovation from the thousands of people in the crowd.
“I served along soldiers from all over the world,” Prince Harry added. “I saw the sacrifices you and your families made to serve your nations. I learned about the importance of team work and camaraderie in the way that only military service can teach you. Every single one of them will have confronted tremendous emotional and mental challenges. When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let’s also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn’t leave his house.
“Let’s cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress and let’s celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression. To those of you watching at home and who are suffering from mental illness in silence – whether a veteran or a civilian, a mum or a dad, a teenager or a grandparent – I hope you see the bravery of our Invictus champions who have confronted invisible injuries and I hope you are inspired to ask for the help that you need.”
The first lady spoke toward the end of the ceremony before Morgan Freeman rounded off the evening by introducing Military Sergeant Israel “DT” Del Toro Jr., JJ Chalmers and Louis Nethercott who all spoke movingly about their changing life circumstances. The evening concluded with a brief fireworks display.
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