The Duke of Sussex has launched the UK’s next Invictus Games team telling the competitors – “It’s going to be awesome”.
Harry has been the driving force behind the Paralympics-style event and in central London he met the 65-strong squad of service personnel and military veterans who will compete in Holland next May.
During an informal chat with the competitors the royal – who spent 10 years as an Army officer – said: “This is an opportunity for you guys to be serving your country again.”
He explained their influence would have a profound effect on many: “It’s a really important point to know as well, never underestimate the impact you guys are having on everybody else,” with feedback following previous Invictus Games revealing people were “genuinely inspired” by their story.
The group had gathered at a fitting military location – the home of the Honourable Artillery Company near the Barbican – for a photocall with the duke.
The men and women – who have either been seriously injured, wounded or suffered an illness – will be among 500 competitors from 19 countries taking part in 10 adaptive sports in The Hague.
The duke went around talking to all the UK team members, joking with them and giving them advice having helped mastermind the previous four Games.
He told one group “make sure you enjoy every single moment and look after each other” and in a lighter moment he made a quip about the Dutch hosts of the 2020 Games and a sweet treat popular in Holland.
Harry said: “You’ve got to like orange and make sure you don’t eat too many stroopwafel.”
At one point, Harry shared a laugh with RAF veteran Lynsey Rice, who joked with the duke about accidentally touching his bottom as a group photo was taken.
The ex-servicewoman, who suffers from a muscular condition, laughed as she said: “As one of the guys came in for the picture my arm was pushed down and I said: ‘So sorry sir, my hand is on your bottom.’
“He said: ‘I didn’t even realise.’”
Harry was inspired to found the global tournament after attending the Warrior Games in Colorado in 2013 and seeing how injured American military personnel thrived on the challenge of taking part in competitive sports that aided their recovery.
He went on to stage the inaugural games in London’s Olympic Park in 2014, followed by Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017 and Sydney in 2018, with The Hague chosen for the 2020 event.
Organisers have said that after 2020, Invictus will be staged every two years.
Harry’s visit was hosted by the UK team’s new captain, and first woman skipper, RAF veteran Rachel Williamson.
Ms Williamson, 30, from Rutland sprained her right thumb during a rugby training session in 2014 but it developed into a serious neurological disorder which left her unable to use her right arm and being medically discharged as a RAF medic in February 2018.
She competed in the Sydney Games and said about the experience: “I saw the guys last year, the previous captain and previous competitors who have done it multiple times, and I just aspired to be them. I saw them as my mentors and I now want to be that mentor to this new team and keep passing that knowledge on.”
Speaking about the benefits of taking part in competitive sports again, she added: “I’m definitely more confident, I believe in myself more and I’m proud of who I am again – I’ve found that self-purpose and it’s sport that got me there.
“It’s going to be a tough seven months, lots of training, but I’m so excited because I can watch all these guys who are new to it all and see how they progress as well and continue building on my recovery journey – helping them will help me.”