By Anne Duggan
On top of the local athletes representing Canada abroad this summer, a number will compete on home soil come the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto.
The Sept. 23-30 event is the third international games for servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries, both visible and invisible, while serving their countries.
Alongside the July 4-5 Canadian Para Athletics Championships in Ottawa were several Invictus Games demonstration events, which will return again at next year’s championship.
“It was the first time that there was a psychological injury category on the Para Athletics day at nationals,” highlights competitor/organizer Natacha Dupuis, who helped arrange the exhibition event with Athletics Canada and the championship hosts.
There were 20 members of Team Invictus, including athletes from the current 2017 Canadian team, past 2014 and 2016 Invictus Games participants, as well as some participants from the Canadian Armed Forces’ Soldier On program, which seeks to use the transformative power of sport to help veterans and serving members with a permanent mental health illness or physical injury to adapt to their new normal and overcome their challenges.
“For the members of Team Canada Invictus 2017 team, it was a great opportunity to work on competition stress. They all had a lot of fun,” notes Dupuis, an Ottawa Lions athlete herself who has been using sport and Soldier On to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dupuis set a new personal-best time of 13.93 seconds during the nationals, which she hopes to better come September in Toronto. Even more, she’d like to see the psychological injury category added at all future para athletics competitions.
“It is my long term goal to have this category permanently included,” she notes. “I know it will be a complicated business because of the medical side of things.”
Adam Jones, who also trains with the Lions, won both the men’s 100 and 200 m Invictus races. He’ll compete in Toronto in athletics as well as indoor rowing.
“I am pretty nervous before every race but I am very happy with these results including a 13.03 in the 100 m,” signals Jones, who is recovering from a serious brain injury that occurred while working as a gunner with the Canadian Armed Forces.
“I was so inspired by my teammates,” adds the Carleton University student.
Geoff De Melo won’t be on the track come the 2017 Invictus Games, but he will compete in swimming and cycling in Toronto.
“My goal was to treat the event as a training exercise,” signals De Melo. “I wanted to see how I could handle crowds and my anxiety. I wasn’t trying for a certain time.”
De Melo was “pleasantly surprised” that the demands of race preparation and support from his teammates were enough to manage his PTSD, which is often problematic in loud and crowded places.
“I was so focused on warm-up, and proper hydration and nutrition that I hardly realized it was so noisy,” he explains. “My emotions were kept at bay.”