By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity
TORONTO, Sept. 29, 2017 — Michael Burns, CEO of the Toronto Invictus Games, announced that Invictus, in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, is releasing the preliminary findings of the first-ever research study on the impact of the role of adaptive sports in the rehabilitation of service members and their families.
The study “will provide a platform for evidence-based policy making that will support the further development of sports programs and events for wounded warriors and veterans in Canada and around the world,” Burns said.
‘First of its Kind’ Study
“This study is the first of its kind,” he added. “There’s never before been a comprehensive study of competitive sporting events developed for service members and veterans. The Invictus Games has a mission: to use the power of sports to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect for those who served their countries and loved ones. We’re confident that Dr. Celina Shirazipour’s findings will help us understand whether the Invictus Games are successful in fulfilling that mission and that it will take us across the finish line.”
Burns said the Invictus Games uses the power of sports to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and broaden awareness of the unique issues that affect people who serve their countries and families.
“We are delivering much more than just a high level sport competition,” he said. “Adaptive sport is also a very effective form of therapy for the soldiers who participate in these games. The games normally have hundreds of competitors who train for months at a very high intensity to push themselves to perform to the limits of their abilities. The games inspire thousands of soldiers and veterans to maintain a positive outlook and to strive to achieve more than what they thought possible.”
Shirazipour is leading a sports psychology study, conducted by Dalhousie University and the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. The study will explore the role of competitive sport in promoting psychological and social well-being for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans and their families in the short and long term before and after the Invictus Games.
The research team is interviewing 40 Canadian and international Invictus Games competitors, including the U.S. team and their family members. Competitors will respond to a series of questionnaires about their experiences training for and participating in the games and the long-term effects of the games. The athletes have injuries ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression to amputation and spinal-cord or nerve damage.
This research will provide a platform for evidence-based program development and policy making to support the further growth of sport programs and events delivered to wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
“The study will also investigate how sport participation may influence service members’ and veterans’ reintegration into, and place in, society,” Shirazipour said.
“Sport is a transformative experience,” she said. “That transformation journey can be divided into three parts, training before the games, the games themselves like here in Toronto and life after the games. When the individuals make the team, they’re motivated because they have a team relying on them. That’s that military mentality: ‘I can’t let my team down.’ The transformation starts because they have to leave their house, find a coach, learn to train and get on a team.”
Shirazipour said the games also give competitors, especially those from countries that don’t support their military, the chance to be celebrated and recognized.
“People are like, ‘They actually came to see me participate and see my recovery and do my sport?’ It’s really intangible,” she said.
Shirazipour also said that giving the competitors a chance to represent their countries again gives them a sense of self identity and a return to service.
“There are a lot of key elements to learn from the initial study,” she said. “Some of these are the value of friends and family and having competitors set goals. Invictus can provide a transformative experience; this motivation to continue and to contain one’s psychological and social well-being.”
Army veteran Will Reynolds competed for the U.S. at the Invictus Games in 2014 in London, in 2016 in Orlando and this year in Toronto. He has also competed at the Department of Defense Warrior Games over the years and earned several medals in track and field and cycling. He is an above-the-knee amputee.
“Research is important because it helps bring the support and funding,” Reynolds said. “If we can in an empirical way show that this is helping people, which we know it is, we see all the great success stories that come out of this. It’s only going to help build the support behind it so every country’s equivalent to Veterans Affairs and Military Health can keep putting a lot of support behind it because it is that impactful on the whole population.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs holds six national clinics a year, including winter and summer sports clinics, Reynolds said. “They’ve been doing it for decades,” he said. “They see the benefit, and they really want to keep it going for veterans. The Invictus Games is on an even bigger scale because this is international, and it’s for active duty as well, so it’s something else to bolster the programs they already see a lot of benefit in.”
Importance of Invictus
Britain’s Prince Harry said he began the Invictus Games after visiting a warrior care facility when he visitedthe 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I’m hugely passionate about the Invictus Games. I’m passionate about the role support can play in the recovery of the body and the mind,” he said. “I’m passionate about the men and women of our armed forces who have served their countries, and I’m passionate in my support and admiration for the families of them because they, too, have served.”
When he first visited the warrior care facility, the prince said “it was there where I first saw the impact that sport could play in recovering these men and women. I was amazed at seeing the fiercest competition turn into respect, understanding and friendship after the finish line was crossed.”
The prince continued, “I saw people giving their all on the court or in the pool, but then hugging their opponents as brothers-in-arms. Seeing this myself convinced me that we have to enable more wounded, ill and injured service men and women to benefit from the power of competition. And we have to find a way to stage the competition that could attract the attention of the world and inspire millions. The idea of the Invictus Games was born.”
Harry, who served in the British Army for 10 years, including two deployments to Afghanistan, said he knows the journey to the Invictus Games is not an easy one for the competitors.
“People find motivation in many ways but in my mind, there’s no denying the impact that teamwork, competition and fun has,” he said. “The wife of a U.S. competitor thanked me as tears rolled down her face. She said, ‘My husband is on the [American] team and when he’s with the team, I see him smile, a genuine smile. I cry because his smile is something we’ve been missing. Thank you for these games.’”
“We believe that the games have made a real difference,” the prince said. “Competitors, friends and their families told us that the games were not only changing lives but saving lives. Sport, of course, is not the only answer, but it is a powerful tool.”