Playing sports together, also possible during a pandemic

It may still be impossible to really get together as an Invictus family, but there are so many other possibilities to get in touch with each other. And even to meet each other during sports activities! Invictus Games participants from the United States and Ukraine set a good example in mid-November. They competed against each other digitally, in an atmosphere of camaraderie and connectedness. Powerlifting and rowing, with and against each other, can also be done – connected through the computer – from your own living room. “Be active! That is so important. Reach out to each other.”

By Edward Swier

In the run-up to the Invictus Games The Hague 2020, which will be held from 29 May to 5 June 2021, it would of course be wonderful if more countries, more teams, could reach out to each other digitally. You can do this within your own country, but also outside it. Digitally there are no borders, no travel restrictions. An international competition is, with ‘help’ from Zoom and Facebook for example, easy to organize, says Shawn Sprayberry – Spray for the Invictus Games community – from the US. He gives tips and tricks to set up such a competition, which is very good for participants’ morale. “We’ve had a busy, but very warm, valuable time together,” says Sprayberry.

Marsha Gonzales and Oksana Horbach agree. The team managers of the American and Ukrainian Invictus teams respectively feel more and more connected, although the physical distance between them is very great. “Fate once brought us together. We had an introductory meeting with all the team managers years ago and I was already sitting at the table. When Oksana came in, I motioned to her that there was still a spot available next to me”. The two became, yes you can describe it that way, friends. And still, a few years later, they have a lot to share. Oksana: “The last few months have shown that, yes. We’ve knocked down a lot of walls together already”.

Possibilities

According to Horbach, for example,  an outstanding uniting event was performed at the beginning of this year. “Our country is not active in wheelchair basketball, so when we set up a wheelchair basketballteam, we had no resources or experience to coach them. But we did feel the need to train ourselves in adaptive teamsport as well”. Marsha Gonzales came to the rescue, she arranged materials, coaching and a group of sports ambassadors who enthusiastically taught wheelchair basketball in February in Ukraine. “A wonderful time, we all look back on it with great pleasure”, said Oksana and Marsha.

But, after that Covid-19 struck. The pandemic prevented any more joint activities. “Of course, we were all searching for possibilities after that,” said Shawn Sprayberry. “But we soon came to the conclusion that, just as for office workers, the solution for athletes had to be found digitally. Sure, Zoom already existed. But all of us never thought we’d ever use it for something like this”.

As no doubt every Invictus Games country faced challenges, so did the United States and Ukraine. It is especially this group of veterans and military personnel that benefits from a close relationship with colleagues and teammates. Unfortunately, that opportunity was largely lost. Digital contact was a solution. “Of course, it was not easy to stay active all the time, but you do look for opportunities. It is important to find the best possible solution for each team member. Especially for this group, contact with others is very important”.

However, it only starts to look like something real when you can play sports together again, they thought in the US and Ukraine. Hence the setup of a competition for powerlifting and rowing, while in the summer the archers had already met for the first time. “In the beginning something like that might be a bit awkward, but when you see the smiling faces after a few minutes, you know it’s a godsend”.

Warrior Care Month

November is traditionally Warrior Care Month in the United States. It highlights the recovery and resiliency of wounded warriors and serves to recognize the programs the armed services have in place. This is exactly why the American Invictus team organizes extra activities in November. The two international competitions with Ukraine were part of this. The competition in powerlifting and rowing, both last week, attracted dozens of participants from both countries. And worldwide attention from followers, some 9,000 visitors watched the online competition, which was organized using Zoom software and broadcast live on the Wounded Warriors’ Facebook page. The latter is, of course, an important link. There’s nothing better than to present your event live and ensure visibility worldwide.

Keeping connected

For team managers Marsha Gonzales and Oksana Horbach, the two league days in November were also somewhat emotional.  The last time they met in person was in February, then Covid-19 made its appearance and the distance between the United States and Ukraine suddenly increased. That distance had become so much smaller in recent years. “But now we were completely connected again.”

And that is important. “I would like to say to everyone: be active. It’s so important, don’t get isolated,” says Marsha Gonzales. “Definitely reach out to each other in this day and age,” adds Oksana Horbach. “We are all a big family, and family needs to look out for each other.”

The challenge was to find a time when everyone in both the United States and Ukraine was awake enough to play sports, the time difference is of course large. Moreover, it is important that every participant is able to make a digital connection. But nowadays every laptop has a camera, and otherwise the cell phone can also offer a solution. A good internet connection is of course a must. “Of course, there was a slight hiccup in the connection from time to time, but all in all it was really fine”, says Sprayberry, who had an overview of all participants on his own computer and, with some technical help, switched from ‘living room’ to ‘living room’.

Thinking ahead

Sprayberry is thinking ahead, and in the near future he wants to offer a listening ear to every Invictus Games delegation that wants to start their own competition. “We are always ready to help with some technical tips,” he says. “However, the starting point is that it’s not that difficult. The software from companies like Zoom is so good these days, anyone is able to get it ready and working”.

However, that is still a point of attention. The American Invictus Games delegation uses the government version of Zoom, a paid account. With the free version there are not so many possibilities. Moreover, the past few months – in which working from home and Zooming have become part of many people’s daily activities – it has become clear that not all open channels are equally secure. “You can solve that anyway with a paid account. Otherwise, we can give you some tips about that too”.

Gonzales and Horbach, however much they appreciate technical progress, would like to say that they cannot wait until 2021, until May, for the Invictus Games in The Hague. “After all, how beautiful the digital solutions may be, we are human beings. And they are made to see each other face to face, to meet each other. Live and in person. We can’t wait to meet each other and the Invictus Games family again. We will be so happy to see each other in The Hague in May. We will keep our fingers crossed for that.”

If you want to know more about organizing an online competition, in your own country or with other nations, please send an email to info@invictusgames2020.nl.

We will try to answer your questions as best we can, so that your participants can also prepare for #IG2020NE.

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