It was as if it was supposed to be that way. When Rafał Lis went looking for a new challenge to do with sports in his hometown of Gorzów Wielkopolski, he found the archery club of Ryszard Bukański, the Paralympic and winner of multiple World Cup medals. “I wanted to try out the sport, see if it suited me.” Lis not only quickly advanced in the sport, it also turned out to be a steppingstone to participating in the Invictus Games on behalf of Poland.
By Edward Swier
Lis says it honestly. Until recently he barely knew about the Invictus Games. Poland attended the event for the first time in 2018, in Sydney. “I only really got to know it for the first time when, after the Invictus Games in Sydney, I read a review in a magazine for soldiers. Then when I surfed the internet, I came across the Facebook page of the Polish Invictus team and I became more and more enthusiastic.”
Then came a lot of coincidental moments. “It turned out that my trainer, Ryszard Bukański, is not only active in my association but also supervisor of the Invictus team.” With the help from the experienced coach, Lis made rapid progess. Lis is very enthusiastic about archery. “The sport has a long history in Poland. It is amazing to be a part of it and get into it.” He has good results on record. It’s a sign of his perseverance.
They have experienced this in Poland before. After a serious injury which he sustained in 1998, Lis was no longer able to serve in the army. For ten years he worked on his recovery and on a return to the Polish armed forces. That took a lot of effort, but Lis is no longer just a veteran, he is also a soldier again. “I had to fight for ten years, but I succeeded.”
Lis tells us what happened to him, now more than 20 years later. “I stepped on a mine in 1998, during the Balkan war. This resulted in me being seriously injured in my legs and my left hand. A lot of bones were broken, additionally there were some shards in my arms and knees, among other things. Immediately after the explosion, I was taken to an American field hospital, where I had surgery. Then I did the rehabilitation in a Polish hospital. Today I still have physiotherapy, to be able to move better.”
The experienced corporal will never fully recover. For example, in the training camp of the Polish Invictus team in Mrągowo, it became clear that Lis may have to abandon his ambitions to participate in more than one sport in The Hague. It goes without saying that archery is number 1, but whether he will also participate in indoor rowing remains a question. “The trainers and physical therapists wonder if it is feasible for my body.”
Ideal training conditions
In Mragowo, the Polish Invictus team has ideal training conditions. The Polish Air Force has facilities where you can practice in peace. “It’s a great place, we are surrounded by great people, the circumstances are good. Quiet. You can train well here.” There is a swimming pool, a gym to play volleyball, while the archers, indoor rowers and athletics competitors also can train there. “Really, everything is there.”
During the training camp, the Polish team always finds the opportunity to get to know the team. “For example, we visited a primary school, where our sitting volleyball team gave them a presentation. Young people from the military school have visited us to see how we are preparing. Also, there is always time for interviews, it is important that we tell our story. Since we participated in Sydney, attention to the Invictus Games, and its purpose, has become increasingly more in Poland.”
The Polish soldiers and veterans come together for a longer period, for a total of three times, in Mragowo between the end of January and the start of the Invictus Games in early May. “Therefore, we are definitely not lacking in our preparation and are also very much looking forward to coming to going the Netherlands. Personally, I have been there twice briefly, in transit. Now I hope to get a lot more out of it.”
During the training camp at the end of January, Lis was chosen as team captain by his teammates. Poland is coming to The Hague with 20 athletes and two reserves. Four athletes have previously participated already, in Sydney. As for the rest it will be their first time. The delegation, with Familiy & Friends, and staff members consists of around 80 people. “That I have become a team captain is a surprise to me. A very nice surprise. Especially since it was my teammates who have made the choice. It matters a lot to me. It is a privileged position, but it is above all a reason to do even better to help others.”
That is precisely the reason why Lis was chosen. Since joining the Polish Invictus team it was already clear that Lis showed a lot of attention for others. That he was always willing to help another. And always with a big smile. That he fought back to a position within the army is also highly appreciated. “He is a real fighter,” his colleagues said.
And very social. At the end of the conversation, Rafal Lis once again demonstrates his involvement with others. He had, of course, noticed that the interviewer’s voice sounded rather hoarse due to a flu. His last comment has stayed with the interviewer. As he personally once stepped on a mine, and was seriously injured as a result, he wished his conversation partner, who just lost his voice for a moment, “a lot of strength in his recovery.”