The Invictus Games will be held next year, from May 29 until June 5, 2021, in The Hague. The competitors of the participating nations are in the process of preparing themselves for our beautiful event, they now have almost a year more to prepare for it. Every competitor has his or her favourite sports. In the coming months we will be highlighting one sport each time on this spot, based on conversations with Invictus competitors. For article 2, which is about archery, we talked with Sonny Te Rure (New Zealand), Irinia Raudsepp (Estonia), Gabriel ‘Gabe’ George (United States) and Marcel Neagu (Romania).
By Edward Swier
They are all talking about it, solicited and unsolicited. Archery is pretty tricky. It requires a lot of concentration. “I’m curious where I’ll be later, when I’ve trained a bit more”, says Irina Raudsepp, the least experienced archer of the quartet. She can do a lot with the tips from her colleagues abroad. “You have to focus in such a way that there’s no room for any other thoughts in your head,” says Sonny Te Rure. “You challenge yourself a great deal mentally”, adds Marcel Neagu. “It’s a big challenge, in my case, to focus on concentration while dealing with chronic nerve pain and muscle tension”, which makes the sport more difficult for Gabriel George.
Gabriel George, a medically retired former member of the US Navy, is known as The One Armed Archer. It’s the result of a motorcycle accident, which – in addition to many other injuries – left him with a paralyzed arm. He didn’t think he would ever get into archery, and certainly not at the Invictus Games. “But in the summer of 2018, I was introduced to archery at a sports clinic for veterans. I watched others shoot, saw how much fun they had with it. But I didn’t expect to be offered a bow there. I remember looking at that coach and wondering how on earth he thought I was going to shoot with one arm. Before I knew it, he took a rope out of his pocket, tied it to the so-called d-loop, and told me to bite into it and pull it backwards. At that moment I knew immediately that my life would change.”
‘Gabe’ immediately had a lot of fun and also appeared to have a talent for it. Which is not only physically related. Archery is perhaps the most complex of all the sports practiced during the Invictus Games.
A noble sport
In the first episode we talked about athletics, with all its different disciplines, this time a – so to speak – ‘simpler’ sport is central. But archery has not only a physical, but also a mental component. The goal is clear: shoot the arrow in the bull’s-eye. But there are so many facets that make it complex. Weather conditions have an influence, the physical condition of the athlete and his or her ability to ‘think the arrow in the right direction’. “If you want to score better in archery, you have to work on your technique, but you also have to have good concentration. It is a very mental sport. You have to detach yourself from your daily worries and think about your routines at the shooting range. About your bow, your arrow and the goal”, says Marcel Neagu, who calls it ‘a noble sport’. “In this sport, all athletes care about fair play.”
Sonny has his own way of looking at it: “It’s certainly also about concentration, but you can’t do without the technique. One thing doesn’t work if you don’t have the other. I find the technique the greatest challenge.”
For the New Zealander an important part of the day is also about sports. “I used to play rugby. I was quite athletic when I was young. I ran half a marathon and a marathon. But running is a bit of a strain on my body now, cycling is friendlier in that aspect.” At the Invictus Games, Sonny will also participate in powerlifting. “I’ve discovered that I have a talent for this, also thanks to my experience in rugby, for example. I feel comfortable with it.”
Like so many competitors in the Invictus Games, other archers also participate in other sports. Gabriel, if you ask him, also gives a prominent place on his list of favourites to sitting volleyball. “Because it’s a team sport, it’s all about working together as a team. And so you play with others as well.” Incidentally, he is also an enthusiastic skier, golfer, cyclist, diver and sailor. Swimming has been Irina’s number one since she was a child. “I’ve always had an active lifestyle, I liked sports. That gave me a good feeling. I’m not necessarily a fan of competition, I play sports for myself. After my two severe knee injuries, the doctors advised me to look for sports that don’t put too much strain on my knees.”
In the end, Marcel Neagu clearly prefers archery. “I also participate in sitting volleyball, but archery is my favourite. It has become a lifestyle for me. I have thirty years of experience as an athlete, I used to play a lot of soccer. But nothing compares to the feeling that archery gives me. Thanks to archery I get rid of my frustrations, my stress, my nerves. Archery has really made me a different, better person.”
Neagu has been in the Romanian army since 2002, he went on missions to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. During a patrol in 2016, his vehicle was hit by an explosive device. He was injured in both legs, his spine and hand. “After the incident, I couldn’t do sports for a long time. However, I watched the 2017 Invictus Games and decided to give it a try in one of the next editions. Due to my injuries, I opted for archery. The sport challenged me right away, it was love at first sight.”
All these competitors stress the importance of sports on their way to recovery. Gabriel calls participating in the archery competition at the Invictus Games of great importance in his recovery process. “It gives me a goal. And also helps me plan my future better.”
Gabriel would also like to encourage others to do archery as well. “At first, I also didn’t think the sport was right for me, but almost anyone can do it. All you really need is the will to learn. Everything else comes along with the process, for most there is a solution available”.
None of their focus is solely on the honorary stage in The Hague. Their main focus is participating, challenging themselves to getting better every time. Irina: “For me the Invictus Games are mainly about meeting other people and learning new things.”
Of course they understand that they had to postpone their trip to the Netherlands. Covid-19 also turned their lives upside down. Due to the pandemic, not only the Invictus Games of 2020 were postponed, everyone personally had to adjust their training as well. The competitors who had an opportunity to shoot in their backyard obviously had fewer restrictions, but not everyone found themselves in the same circumstances. “I live an hour and a half away from the nearest training facility,” said Irina. “I was able to train well in January and February, but then I got sick and the coronary restrictions came. In addition, I had to undergo surgery, which means I will not be able to resume shooting until November. I am very curious as to how it will go again, I would like to master the technique better and test myself”.
Sonny Te Rure also stood still from March to May, due to the lockdown in New Zealand. “I was able to cycle a bit in my area as long as I stayed in my bubble. In fact, I had so much fun doing this that it became a new goal for me for next year’s Invictus Games.”
The New Zealander served in the military for eight years and had experienced a lot. He stopped after he broke his ankle in a parachute jump, but what made the most impact was an earlier climbing training on Mount Ruapehu with the Victor Company, on August 12, 1990. Sonny and 12 colleagues ended up in a terrible storm. Six friends died, Sonny survived, with frostbite symptoms. “I tried to look after them that whole trip. I never thought of myself, always thought of the others. But we weren’t in the right place.”
It did him good to see old friends again in recent years, and make new friends, through the Invictus Games team of New Zealand. “On that occasion I also developed a feeling for archery. That was a long time ago. As a child, I had shot with a bow and arrow before. Though, compared to that, my bow today is a lot more advanced and flashy. The technique – and the principle of aligning the bow to the target – I relearned quickly thanks to my experience with service weapons. It was fun from the start.”
In the third episode, which will be posted online in a month, will focus on wheelchair rugby.