Janno Lepik is team captain of the Estonian delegation for the Invictus Games. He participated in the event twice before. “I am a good example of how sports, but especially the event, has influenced me in a positive way. The first time, in Toronto, I was in fact nothing more than an injured veteran. I had prepared myself well for Sydney, I really participated. And now there are even plans for me to participate in the Paralympic Games.” That shows what kind of development you can go through in a few years. “I want to be an example for others.”
By Edward Swier
Janno Lepik does hand biking. He doesn’t have both of his legs anymore. In 2012, Janno stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan. Evidently the accident had an enormous impact. On his condition, on his existence. He could no longer perform his military work and Lepik had to say goodbye to his favorite sport. Janno Lepik was a good, a very good wrestler. He became youth champion of his country twice. “He was in fact a professional athlete,” said team manager Urmas Rajaver.
The fact that he was no longer able to continue with that was initially hard for him. “After the Invictus Games in Toronto, Janno also had a big dip. He was suffering from depression. Until he resumed training and quickly became the man he was before the incident.”
Janno lost weight, became a father of twins, and also learned to control the problems he faced with his right shoulder and took hand biking seriously. “Janno has shown enormous progression: physically, mentally and sports-related. Thanks to sports he has found new meaning in life.” He really realized that. “There is always a big smile on my face when I am allowed to train.”
He already participated in a number of World Cups last year and the plan is to work towards a higher goal as of 2020: the Olympic Games. Tokyo 2020 is too soon, but Paris 2024 is already circled on my calendar.
The team of Estonia
But first – and Janno will definitely put it as number 1 priority on his list as team captain for this year – are the Invictus Games. The Invictus Team of Estonia consists of 12 veterans, and of course their family & friends, plus the staff. “We have 20 places for athletes, but most of our veterans have already taken part in the Invictus Games more than twice. That is why the group is somewhat smaller. Incidentally, more than half of our participants have already taken part in the Invictus Games, which is a huge advantage,” said Janno Lepik.
“We have limited options; a number of people have not been going on missions like the one in Afghanistan for several years now. In addition, many of the injured people out there are still not participating in sports. We want to change that in the coming years. We will encourage them,” Urmas Rajaver adds.
The current group of participants consists mainly of physically injured people. Janno: “Only one of our participants is mentally affected. On the other hand, I know better than anyone that someone who is physically injured is also always mentally affected by the consequences of the injury.”
That is precisely why Estonia has shown that it is important to work together. “We all have individual schedules, but also go to joint training camps. Group training is good. It makes all of you do a little more than your best, push harder. It is also mentally nice to work together.”
A lot of attention to veterans
Janno and his teammates do a lot for bringing greater attention to veterans and the Invictus Games in particular, in the country. “Veterans day in Estonia is always a big event. Four charity runs are also held in the four largest cities in the country. Then, people can donate money for the veterans. And it doesn’t end there. In fact, the entire month of April is veteran’s month. You can then buy special, blue-black-and-white flower bunches from the florist, the proceeds of which go to the veterans. We always close the festivities with a big ‘veteran’s rock concert’. Additionally, this is all live on national television.” The proceeds go to the preparation for the Invictus Games, in order for training camps to be able to be organized and wheelchairs to be purchased.
Janno and his teammates can barely wait for the beginning of the Invictus Games at the beginning of May. “We are really looking forward to The Hague and are curious about Zuiderpark. Moreover, we can’t wait to meet and compete in sports, with other veterans, from around the world.”