The skirl of bagpipes and screams of excitement welcomed Prince Harry to Toronto to announce the launch of next year’s Invictus Games.
The third international paralympic-style competition for injured members of the armed forces is coming to Toronto in September 2017, a Canadian debut that the prince predicts will be “the biggest and best Invictus Games yet.”
Introduced to an audience at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel as “His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales,” Harry said the Games will offer Canadians a chance “to salute those who put themselves in harm’s way so you will not have to.”
The 31-year-old royal and fifth in line to the throne is the architect and patron of the Games, an international sporting competition for wounded, injured and sick troops whose inaugural event was held in London in 2014.
Harry explained how sport can inspire mental and physical recovery among injured servicemen and servicewomen as well as offer a sense of purpose.
“We showed that veterans don’t need our sympathy,” the prince said, “just the opportunity to play a meaningful role in society once again.”
“Sport could help these guys fix their lives.”
The prince recalled his own military tours serving as an officer in the British Army on the front lines in Afghanistan. He was forced to leave in February 2008 to protect fellow military personnel after his role in the war was leaked to the press.
In midflight, he described how he “stuck his head behind some curtains” where he saw “three young lads in induced comas, wrapped in plastic with tubes coming out of them everywhere.”
“It struck me that this flight was one of many where lives had been changed forever . . . and put me on the path to the Invictus Games.”
Flanked by members of Team Canada, Trudeau said the games give him an opportunity to reflect on memories of his grandfather, former MP Jimmy Sinclair who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Western Sahara during the Second World War.
“He remains an inspiration to me,” Trudeau said. “It’s just a nice occasion for me to say, ‘Thank you grandpa for your service as well.’
“As the poem Invictus suggests, these servicemen and women are “unconquerable,” added Trudeau, commending the prince for creating the games. “Without his vision, the Invictus Games would not be what they are today.”
Also in attendance was Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who announced a provincial contribution of $10 million will go towards the event.
Later on Monday afternoon, nearly 2,000 schoolchildren screamed — and squealed — at the mere sight of Canada’s commander-in-chief and Britain’s red-headed royal at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre. Joined by Toronto Mayor John Tory, the three took in a friendly game of sledge hockey.
The highly physical sport has each player strapped to a two-bladed sledge that allows the puck to pass underneath. It will make its Invictus debut at the Toronto iteration of the Games next year.
“Everything happens on ice, doesn’t it?” the royal highness joked, the delighted crowd cheering in return.
Prior to the matches’ start, hosts Cabbie Richards and Melissa Grelo led the crowd in a thunderous cheer: “I am strong. I am proud. I am unconquered. Invictus!”
Members of Team Canada were also present to watch the game, including Master Cpl. Mark Hoogendoorn, a combat engineer who lost his leg in Afghanistan after stepping on an improvised explosive device.
Today, the 30-year-old is counting down the days until Sunday when the second-ever Games is scheduled to begin in Orlando, Fla. There, Hoogendoorn will compete in power lifting, rowing and shot put events.
“To know that our county is behind us helps a lot,” he said. “Hopefully, we can bring home some medals.”
Following the short stop in Toronto, the prince is expected in Florida later this week. More than 600 military athletes from 16 nations will compete in events such as archery, road cycling, wheelchair basketball and power lifting.
—with files from Robin Levinson King, Peter Edwards, Sarah-Joyce Battersby and The Canadian Press
Prince Harry speaks at Queen’s Park