The Invictus Games will still be held next year, from May 29 to June 5, in The Hague. The competitors of the participating nations are back in action, fully preparing for the Games next year. Every competitor has his or her favourite sport. Over the next 10 months, we will be highlighting one sport at the time, based on conversations with competitors. For episode 1, which is about athletics, we talked with Emma Murfet (Australia), Sébastien Peyen (France), Levan Kvanchiani (Georgia), Thierry Dutrieux (Belgium) and Danielo Mercera (The Netherlands).
By Edward Swier
Athletics is the mother of all sports, also at the Invictus Games. There are many disciplines, from a 100-meter sprint to discus throw. On the athletics track, it will be busy for days during the Games. Emma wants to show herself in just about all these disciplines in The Hague. “I find that so attractive about the sport, there’s always a discipline you like”. Thierry and Danielo concentrate on the sprint numbers. Sébastien and Levan are men of the long haul. Levan: “One of my best performances was competing in a marathon in the United States. I covered the 42 kilometres in one of the best times and came out on top.”
“I can often sprint at the end of a long run, but I’m anything but a sprinter”, said Sébastien. The Frenchman had a stroke in 2001, after which he could not walk for a long time, and could only move around in a wheelchair. “I rehabilitated for two years and then, as part of my recovery, I started running. At first slowly and a few times a week, but in 2006 I already trained every day and participated in Paralympic competitions. I now train in a large athletics stadium, where a lot of champions, including Paralympic athletes, prepare every day. That’s very inspiring.”
Emma has been enthusiastic about athletics since she was a child. “I’ve actually done it since I was five years old. But in my recovery process, it’s taken on a new, special implication. Running makes me feel free. Thanks to playing sports with other veterans, I have learned to put other things aside for a while and just enjoy the moment. That has proven to be very important.”
Levan, father of three children and, in his own words, a ‘passionate runner’ has been running from an early age. “I turned out to have a talent for it. That is why I started as a child and I have continued to do it.” He is very pleased that he can remain active in the army on the athletics track. “I am very grateful that our Ministry of Defense supports us in this. I, and other hurt soldiers feel united on the sports field. That gives a good feeling.”
For Thierry, sports also took an important place from an early age. “I was born in a short and a t-shirt. When I had to rehabilitate after my tragic accident – I lost my left forearm as a commando and got a pin in my thigh – I immediately started running again. Of course, at my own pace. After that, I mainly trained with weights and did CrossFit. When I heard that Belgium was also going to participate at the Invictus Games, I knew right away: this is also something for you Thierry. Actually, I started sprinting not so long ago. And after the Invictus Games in 2021, I already have a new goal: I want to participate at the Paralympic Games of Paris in 2024.
Danielo looks forward to competing in the Invictus Games, in his own country. “I was made aware of it by my trainer at the athletics club, where I have been playing sports for a year or two now. I used to be a swimmer and kickboxer, but in the summer – out of boredom – I joined in the training on the athletics track. There, it turned out I had talent. They discovered I have enormous explosive power whilst doing short track running. I had to do something with that, they told me right away. With Paulus, my trainer, I had already talked about my problems from the past, including PTSD. He suggested that the Invictus Games could be a good event to deal with that.”
Athletics seemed to be a positive focus, it helped Danielo in his process. “I notice that my PTSD recovery has progressed by leaps and bounds.” Playing sports, has positively changed Danielo’s frame of mind. He feels better, because of the peace and focus he finds in athletics. “Sport really takes me to the next level. It has pulled me out of the deep gutter”, said the Dutchman, who is trying to learn from his trainer not to just look at his running times. “He teaches me that first and foremost it’s about fun, that I shouldn’t be frustrated if I don’t see progress within a week. I’m quite a perfectionist, but I have to give myself time; I’m still learning the sport.”
Your body has to be ready
Sébastien: “I like the way you run against time in athletics. You train with friends but challenge yourself. What’s more, the sport has stolen my heart, because it has helped me re-find myself after my accident. I now use sport mainly to feel good and grow old healthy. Thanks to athletics, I managed to reduce my handicap. A lot of people don’t believe that I have a disability at all. Although, you can see it. A while back, I was running in a competition for able-bodied athletes and another runner came up to me afterwards to ask if I was injured because I pulled my leg a bit. When I told him my past, he was surprised.”
“I’m sprinting since a few months and starting to see what it’s all about, Thierry says, “although the effort is short, it is very intense. Your body has to be ready for that. That’s not easy. You must watch out you don’t get hurt. That’s happened to me before, I got a big muscle tear. You learn from that, of course.”
Dealing with the lockdown
Of course, the corona restrictions meant that training sessions came to a standstill for everyone. Luckily Levan was soon able to continue training at the Rehabilitation Center in Tserovani. “The Ministry of Defense helped us with that.”
Danielo: “I used to train three times a week, but suddenly the athletics track was closed, and the fitness centre had to close as well. I became quite demotivated, which is actually not very smart. Because I have to sport to feel good. However, the lockdown brought me something good in the end. I started thinking a lot about my schedules and my sports plan. And now I know that in order to make progress, I don’t have to run so fast all the time. On the contrary, I want to slowly increase my load capacity.”
Emma also had motivational problems. She couldn’t go to the grass track just around the corner. “But I have become very creative. I have done some useful exercises in the backyard.” Just like Sébastien, she looked for roads. “I live in the countryside, there are plenty of roads where I can run.” Sébastien: “There were no races in this period, I’ve been running on the bike paths in my area.” Thierry quickly adapted to the circumstances. “After the lockdown, I was able to train with others, with the social distancing rules of course”.
Not about winning medals
There is still plenty of time to prepare for the Invictus Games. They are looking forward to 2021. Participating in The Hague is the most important thing. Although they all want to perform better than ever, the Invictus Games are not about winning gold. Sébastien: “I think it’s just as important to meet others because that’s what will create the greatest memories of the Invictus Games.”