Having made the ultimate sacrifice in conflict, Georgian double leg amputees Grigoli, Akhmed and Revaz believe in the power of sport in improving their health and keeping their spirits high. Last night they could be seen waving the Georgian flag and cheering in the front row for their fellow team members at the sitting volleyball finals.
This week 35-year-old Akhmed Safarov won bronze in the 100-metre wheelchair race after three gruelling months of training. Despite his success on the track, the best thing about sport for him is the people: to socialise with good people and to compete against rival teams. The Invictus Games, he says, are a good cause. For people like “them”: soldiers without arms or without legs, they have the opportunity to show themselves and a chance to keep their spirits up. For people like them, Akhmed says, sport is like a doctor.
Thursday Akhmed will be competing in wheelchair basketball. He says his success in basketball is a mystery. He can’t believe his luck that because of the Invictus Games, he gets to fulfil his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. He will continue training over the coming year in the hopes of qualifying for next year’s Invictus Games in Düsseldorf.
The Hague is wheelchair basketball player Grigoli Minagorashvili’s first Invictus Games. Hailing from Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, 48-year-old Grigoli has served in several conflicts during his 30-year military career, particularly in the contested territory of Abkhazia. In 2008 when Russian and Abkhaz forces fought against the Georgian army, he was injured in an air assault in which his stomach was struck by a bomb. No one expected him to live.
Grigoli explains that he has four nations in his blood: Russian, Ukrainian, Korean and Georgian. For him, the Invictus Games allows him to not only connect with other military personnel, but with other parts of his cultural identity. Before his injury, Grigoli was a keen sportsman, taking part in everything from karate to parkour. The Invictus Games has not only allowed Grigoli to keep active, but to try out his snippets of English and Italian, to see how other teams train, and to fulfil his dream of visiting the Netherlands. Grigoli only breaks into English to describe Anna – his wife of 26 years – as “my love”, who is proudly supporting him at the Invictus Games.
Swimmer and archer Revaz Gorgadze also relishes the opportunity to travel and compete against military personnel from other nations. Despite only speaking Georgian, he says he has already made new friends thanks to his trusted interpreter and teammate Akhmed. Showing a photo on his phone of his youngest of four, he is clearly proud to represent his country and his family.
Swimming, he says, is great for his health as it works all his muscles. He found his love for swimming at work in a military academy, which gives him daily access to a swimming pool, and helps him to keep ties with his military family. He hopes to continue his para sport participation at the next Warrior Games in the USA. Although his wife and children couldn’t be here in the Netherlands, his brother is one of the 20-strong family and friends team that have come to support Team Georgia.