To our regret, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Invictus Games cannot take place in 2021 either. But we are coming back! In 2022, the Invictus Games will still be held. And until then, we will make the most of it together. The athletes of the participating countries who are facing postponement of the event will, with the support of all of us, continue to train for their favorite sports. In the coming months, we will continue to highlight a sport here each time, based on interviews with Invictus participants. For episode 8, which is about indoor rowing, we spoke with Stacey Adam (New Zealand), Mark Lind (Denmark), Marius Canuci and Catalin Olteanu (both from Romania).
By: Edward Swier
Sports as medicine
For Mark Lind, it was a logical choice. If he was going to compete in the Invictus Games, he wanted to do indoor rowing as well. With one weighty reason: because it’s the toughest of all sports. It doesn’t look all that complicated, but you can really push yourself to the limit in rowing. That’s important to me. I want to train myself to deal with stress in my body, that’s part of my recovery process,” said Mark, who became ill after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009 and was found to have PTSD.
”Indoor rowing is, and I think this is also important, a hugely social sport. You can train together with others, regardless of their age, gender and physical condition. That’s pretty special for an individual sport. It also means that, under normal circumstances, you can find someone to train with very easily.”
Of course, those circumstances have been anything but normal lately. “I rowed up to six times a week before the pandemic, and last year in the spring – then leading up to the Invictus Games – even a bit more. When the Invictus Games were postponed for the first time, I started training less. I do strength training a few times a week, and row occasionally. It frustrates me especially that I can’t train with others, I miss the company and social contacts. I now train mostly at home, where I have a rowing machine, with my girlfriend,” said the 34-year-old Dane, who played soccer at a high level.
“Sport has always played an important role in my life. I played soccer and have also been a trainer. I also played ice hockey. I always enjoyed the excitement of a game, was really satisfied when we won. But also, the physical part, the man-to-man fight in the game, appealed to me. At the Invictus Games I don’t only compete in rowing, but I also swim. I’m better at rowing, but I actually like swimming better. When I swim, I can turn off everything else and get into a kind of zen mode. I also find the little technical details, which make you swim better and especially faster, interesting.”
“The technique of rowing in itself is not very difficult. But it is difficult to execute the various phases perfectly. Indoor rowing is quite similar to rowing on the water, it feels the same in terms of movements. I work a lot on my mobility, which is quite difficult with my body. All in all, I do get a lot of benefit from rowing. It gives me the opportunity to get away from everyday life, to think about something else for a while. I try to focus on something other than stress. Thanks to the endorphins that are released, the stress disappears a little. Sport is important in dealing with my illness, it makes me cope better with situations physically and mentally. Sport is my medicine. My training ensures that I don’t have to take any real medication,” says Mark, who is eager to come to the Netherlands for the Invictus Games. “That the event has been postponed is one thing for me though, I try to deal with that. The Invictus Games have been pushed back a bit in my mind, but if you ask me about it now, I’m looking forward to it.”
She’s honest: It wasn’t love at first sight. “I always hated the rowing machine. I could never bring myself to do it for more than five minutes,” says Stacey Adam, who has been serving the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Medic for 17 years. Since June 2018, her life has been turned upside down. When she woke up, she could no longer tell a coherent story, the result of a brain tumor. Surgery was necessary but did not improve everything for Stacey. “Both physically and mentally it was difficult. I lost my self-confidence and was afraid to go out the door. Even going to the grocery store was a task because I was afraid people would start a conversation and that I wouldn’t be able to answer simple questions. I was afraid people would treat me differently, didn’t dare meet new people.”
Things changed for the better when Stacey was able to start preparing to participate in the Invictus Games. Sport was always important in my life, but I had lost my confidence a bit. Thanks to my involvement in the Invictus Games, that changed for the better, I dare to do new things. For example, after my surgery I didn’t dare go to the gym because I was ashamed of not being fit. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize people or that I would say something weird.
Invictus has taught me to accept that, however, I now focus on the present and see how far I have come since my surgery. In two and a half years, I have made tremendous progress.
I couldn’t even walk to my clothesline at first but have since run the virtual London Marathon.”
“Although I wasn’t really a fan of rowing when I was first told, I now have a love-hate relationship with it. I’ve mastered the technique quite well, after watching a few You Tube videos with helpful tips. I am physically challenged, it is good for my muscles, my heart as well as my brain. Most of all, it’s a huge mental game, and I love that. It’s nice that I can see where I stand, that I can challenge myself without having to compete with someone else. Sometimes I want to stop but I continue because I have given myself an assignment. Then I want to finish it. I try not to focus on how far I still have to go, but to see where I am already. It’s a great way to measure myself and see that I’m progressing.”
Stacey, who like Mark Lind will also compete in swimming at the Invictus Games, is looking forward to meeting colleagues from different countries in the Netherlands. “It’s a shame that the Invictus Games had to be postponed. But the reality is that everyone is having a hard time right now, so I’m just focusing on the things that I do have an impact on. We were lucky in New Zealand that the measures and lockdowns didn’t last that long, I can do relatively many things ‘as normal’. I did adjust my workouts slightly. These days I row for fun, not necessarily as a workout. As a result, I don’t go as deep as I would like, but on the other hand, I have a lot of time for myself now and I can also catch my breath mentally.”
Physically and mentally stronger through sports
For Marius Canuci and Catalin Olteanu, rowing was an unknown sport, until they got in touch with the Invictus family, their participation came up for discussion and the two looked for a sport that suited them. By now, both Romanians are rowing enthusiastically, especially because they feel it helps – on the road to recovery. Both are struggling with physical problems, caused by explosions in Afghanistan.
Marius was injured by a heavy bomb during his second deployment to Afghanistan, in 2014. ”The fact that I started exercising again after the accident has been the most important decision in my life.” Catalin, a keen paratrooper, was also injured in Afghanistan. He examined, in 2011, an object, which promptly exploded. Among other things, he lost an eye in the process. “Thanks to sports, I’m getting over my fears.”
Catalin has a special vision for rowing. He divides his forces. “If you stick to that, you’ll get further: 70% feet, 20% body, 10% hands. All your muscles in your body participate. You have to put strength and energy into it, but also have a relaxed attitude.” Marius looks at rowing more from the mental side. “It is primarily a battle with myself, I want to push my own limits. The technique isn’t that much of a challenge, you mainly have to work on your endurance, combine your strength with an iron mentality.”
Both feel they are getting stronger thanks to the sport. Marius: “Every minute I row, every movement I make, makes me feel better physically and mentally.” Catalin agrees. ”When you put your body in motion, a lot of good things happen inside of you.”
Both Marius and Catalin only started rowing more recently. Marius: “Although I could not row with my buddies, I did not have to adjust my training program in terms of size during the pandemic. I train at least five times a week, always for 45 minutes or longer.” In addition, Marius does a lot of powerlifting. “I just like to be in the gym.
Catalin also trains quite a bit. “I actually had more time to train in the past period but did miss my colleagues. I have seen the restrictions and measures as a challenge, a challenge you have to take on.” According to Marius, this is not a task. “I’m military, I’m trained to follow the rules.”
Once they can do it again, they are only too happy to come to the Invictus Games in The Hague. “We understand the situation, are mainly concerned about our families right now. But once it is possible again, we look forward to representing our country.”