Canada’s real heroes take centre stage

ABOVE: Images from the 2017 Invictus Games. (PHOTOS: COURTESY INVICTUS GAMES)

In 2017, Toronto hosted the very successful Invictus Games. They brought attention to the cause of helping wounded veterans, service members and their families from around the globe, and they benefitted the city and the country.

The Invictus Games showed the world the grit, determination and the power of the human spirit in all the competitors while also highlighting the human cost of war in a dignified manner, making them synonymous with post-service competition for ill, injured, and wounded veterans and servicemembers. 

There have been no similar events in Canada since. The Invictus Games slated for 2020 in The Hague and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been rescheduled for April 2022. 

An adaptive sport event for Canadian veterans from coast to coast to coast, the inaugural Valour Games will take place in Ottawa-Gatineau in 2023. Canada will send 30 or so participants to the Invictus games whereas 500-plus veterans and servicemembers will benefit from taking part in the all-Canadian Valour Games.

Like the Warrior Games in the United States and the Invictus Games, the Valour Games will include veterans and active servicemembers from across the country. They will be hosted bi-annually in a different Canadian city and feature ten sports, including track and field, archery, powerlifting, cycling, indoor rowing, swimming and golf. 

Michael Burns, one of the organizers of the games, told Ottawa Life: “The Invictus Games was an incredible experience for all those who participated and for the country at large. We now want to open up more opportunities to veterans and servicemembers who want to compete. Currently, we can only send a few dozen competitors to participate in international Games; however, we have thousands who want to participate in adaptive sport as part of their healing and recovery. 

Burns went on to say, “following the U.S. example, a national Games would allow us to accommodate the growing demand and give the country a rare opportunity to celebrate the sacrifices and service of our Veterans, servicemembers and their families every two years.”

The positive attention garnered from the games will provide a unique opportunity to recognize the sacrifices of soldiers and their families that otherwise go unnoticed. The Games provide great programming for military families and present the opportune moment to  thank them. Through the Valour Families’ program, the games will cover the meals and accommodations for the participants and their families while also providing tickets to the games, access to tourist attractions, and general support for the accompanying families. 

A Canadian game will deliver the benefits of the Invictus experience but to a much greater number of veterans and servicemembers who need it. The event will give veterans a sense of meaning and purpose that they sometimes lose when they leave the Forces. It will be another opportunity for them to wear the Canadian flag on their sleeve and represent that country while being supported by their former colleagues, coaches and cheered on by the public. 

The games will also be a unique opportunity to talk about mental health issues that impact far too many of them. It will also be an opportunity for the Forces to highlight the incredible contributions of women in the Canadian Armed Forces. Currently, women make up about 13 per cent of the Forces; however, they have historically made up about 30 per cent of Team Canada at the Invictus Games. The Valour Games also have men and women competing together on team sports – which is a first for any games. 

Moreover, the funding raised for the games will be spent here in Canada supporting our veterans, servicemembers and their families and not diverted on expensive licensing fees to acquire the rights to host foreign games.

ABOVE: Canadian para-athlete Mike Trauner (pictured left) was encouraged to compete in the Invictus Games by Prince Harry. His efforts were rewarded with two gold medals.

Canadian Forces veteran and para-athlete Mike Trauner sees the benefit of sport for healing. Trauner lost his legs to a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan. After years of recovery, he was encouraged by Prince Harry to compete and put his energies and efforts into getting into top shape. It paid off. Trauner won two gold medals at the Invictus Games. 

Trauner believes that the upcoming Valour Games will benefit all veterans. He says that soldiers “get really bogged down about what happened to them during the war and past experiences and trauma.” Trauner goes on to say that the games give veterans new purpose and something to aspire to: “You start focusing on that and you stop focusing on the bad stuff, you also get a lot of peer support from new friends.” 

Trauner fondly recalled the moment he won at the Invictus Games: “I remember when I was doing my rowing, I was directly lined up in front of all the Canadian supporters that were watching, so I had the whole country right in front of my face and all these Canadian flags, and I felt so inspired and overwhelmed that so many people were supporting me and this journey of mine.” 

According to Burns, “Canada’s Valour Games has an opportunity to deliver more impact than ever before for our Veterans and their families at a time when they need it most. It will also be one of those rare events that brings the country together, especially as we emerge from the global pandemic that has had an adverse effect on so many Canadians.”

According to a recent poll conducted by Maru Group, public support for the Valour Games is significant. Ninety-three per cent of Canadians polled said a domestic version of the Invictus Games is important to have in Canada. Eighty-nine per cent said they support Canada’s Valour Games.

The Canadian military and veterans have also shown strong support for a domestic competition. More than   veterans have already applied to participate in adaptive sports.

The cities of Ottawa-Gatineau will both benefit from hosting the event. With ten venues spread across the two cities and the influx of participants and spectators, the economic impact of the games will give a much-needed boost to the local economies, which have suffered after two years of economic slowdown. The 2017 Invictus Games are estimated to have added $60 million in direct spending at Toronto businesses, from spectators and participants alone. 

Concurrent with the games, additional non-sporting events will focus on helping veterans and current armed forces members. A multi-faith celebration on the eve of the games will pay tribute to the sacrifices of veterans and their families. A two-day career fair will be held during the week to assist active-duty members of the Armed Forces in seeing what employment opportunities there are when they consider transitioning to the private sector. The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research will also host a symposium. More than 1000 researchers, clinicians, academics and mental health care professionals will highlight the work being done across Canada at more than 25 academic and research institutions to help improve the mental and physical health of our veterans, military personnel and their families.

The Valour Games are now looking to secure support from the federal government for 2023 and the subsequent bi-annual events. This support will augment the multi-million dollar funding commitment announced by the Province of Ontario in November 2020, along with several leading Canadian companies supporting these and future games in Canada.  

The games will be an excellent opportunity for a wide array of different communities to come together through sport. There will be volunteering opportunities and the chance for cultural engagements with the public and with First Nations communities. The accessibility of corporate Canada to engage with the competitors and veterans will also create jobs and new opportunities. 

The Valour Games are an incredible occasion for veterans and active-duty members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Relocating the games every two years will allow the added benefit of national remembrance.

If all goes as planned for 2023, the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau can take pride in knowing that they were the first cities in Canada to host a sporting event of this scale for our wounded Canadian troops.

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