The Invictus Games will be held this year, from May 29th to June 5th, in The Hague. The athletes of the participating countries are now in full preparation, they have almost a year longer to prepare for our wonderful event. Every participant has his or her favourite sport. In the upcoming months we will be highlighting one sport, based on conversations with Invictus participants. For episode 5, which is about sitting volleyball, we spoke with Florin Oprea (Romania) and Tristan Chitidze (Georgia).
By Edward Swier
Sitting volleyball is one of the team sports played at the Invictus Games. Although you might think that the seated version of volleyball is so much simpler than ‘regular’ volleyball, the opposite is true. Sitting volleyball requires great stamina, the rally can be long. It requires a great deal of responsiveness. Moreover, it is no easy task to cover the entire floor while sitting down. You also use all your muscles. Standing is also a lot easier to hit, set or smash a ball, sitting down often requires a little more coordination. Nevertheless, the participating countries are always happy to take part in the Invictus Games sitting volleyball tournament. The camaraderie among themselves and with the opponent, even though there is a net between the two teams, is always great.
Combining passion and perseverance
Florin Oprea also agrees with the fact that sitting volleyball is pretty difficult. The Romanian was injured during a mission to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2016. “I’ve been playing sitting volleyball since I got involved in this wonderful Invictus Games adventure. Before that, I played volleyball in military school and academy for seven years. So I know the differences and I really think sitting volleyball is a lot more difficult. Truly, it’s also – because you use every muscle in your body – a very complex sport. What’s more, you have to have a great reactive speed. It’s quite tough, but with a lot of passion and perseverance you can get quite far.”
“I also think it’s a wonderful sport, especially because it creates a bond between the players. I got to know my teammates who also participate in the Invictus Games on the volleyball field a lot better, which is different than when you only do individual sports. At the Invictus Games I also participate in athletics and swimming. Because I started running at a very young age, athletics is my greatest and first love.”
Setbacks and positive perspectives
Oprea, after having suffered his injuries on a mission, enduring recovery in Europe and then returning to Afghanistan, had a difficult time. “I got through it by playing sports. I put all my energy into it, I also managed to forget other things on the sports field. I couldn’t imagine life without sport now.”
The fact that Covid-19 made many activities impossible over the past few months was therefore a major setback. “We have not been able to train at all for a long time. It was also very difficult to meet teammates. With online video sessions we tried to keep in touch, so that you also notice that you are not all alone. We all do our best, but it’s not easy when many facilities – indoors and outdoors – are closed off. Many of us have trained at home, or in the area around it. Because of course we want to represent our country with honour at the Invictus Games.”
Oprea is happy to come to the Netherlands in May for the Invictus Games. He has fully embraced his old love, sport. “In my youth I was one of the best runners in the country, and in military training I was an enthusiastic volleyball player, but after that the sport was pushed a bit into the background. It’s nice to have taken that up again. When I play sports I feel healthy, powerful, a better person. Thanks to the Invictus Games and the training sessions I got the chance to restore confidence in myself. I think it’s great that now I can even set an example for people who feel they can’t do it. To those people I would say: just try it again. Maybe your muscles will hurt, but your heart will thank you.”
Tristan Chitidze is one of the enthusiastic players in the sitting volleyball team of Georgia. He has been playing since 2015, which is quite remarkable. “Because at that time, this sport was not yet developed at all in our country. However, we wanted to take part in the US Marine Infantry Games and we had to learn how to play it.”
Since then, Chitidze, who also does weightlifting, has been playing sitting volleyball with a lot of fun and commitment. “It’s – compared to a lot of other sports – really tough, so it takes a lot of enthusiasm and concentration. You have to pay attention to so many things. But the most important thing is that you are diligent and yet also fanatical”. That and the teamwork with his teammates took him a long way. “I’ve played a number of volleyball tournaments in recent years and in 2015 we even won first prize at an event in the United States.”
Unfortunately, the last few months it has barely or not been possible to come to joint training sessions. “We wouldn’t like anything better, and our facilities are usually fine, but in recent months all the sports halls have been closed due to Covid-19. We all have our own training programme to keep us in good shape, but we do it at home. I can’t wait for us to get back together again.”
Chitidze has been in the Georgian army since 2007. In 2008 he was wounded near the village of Shindisi during the Russian-Georgian war. He had to recover for a long time, but was able to continue his service. “Sport certainly helped me with that. Sport plays an important role in my daily life. It helped me cope with the mental stress I am under and accelerated the rehabilitation process. I’m really happy to be able to do sport.”