The Games are about to commence! Prince Harry‘s Invictus Games launches tonight, May 8, in Orlando with a star-studded opening ceremony that will be attended not only by the royal prince, but also Michelle Obama and Hollywood royalty Morgan Freeman.
More than 500 injured military personal from 15 different countries around the world will do battle against each other in a Paralympics-style event, giving the brave and inspiring athletes a world stage to display their outstanding powers of resilience, grit and determination.
Check out some of the biggest stars in 2016’s Team U.S.A. who are hoping to bring home the medals and make their country proud.
Retired Army Captain Will Reynolds is competing in four track events and two cycling events. He won four bronze medals during the 2014 Invictus Games in London and can’t wait to meet up with the friends he met at that time, and to make others from around the world. “All of us are brought together by not only sacrifice in military service, but the power, camaraderie and healing power of sport,” he said. The retired captain lost his left leg when an IED exploded during a combat operation in Baghdad.
Former Army Specialist Chasity Kuczer is going for gold after doing just that at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games and becoming the first-ever female gold medallist in archery and the highest individual scorer ever in the coed competition. Despite undergoing several surgeries since then, she’s been training hard and has high hopes. “I’ve been shooting considerably higher scores than last year,” she said. “I have problems with my hips, sciatica, nerve damage and problems with my lower back, [and] the surgeries kind of put me back, but adaptive sports at the [Warrior Transition Battalion] made me realize I can do other events. I can still be very active and partake in other sports,” she added. “I just needed to stay strong and positive.”
Retired Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Max Rohn is on a mission to reclaim his discus and shot-put title at the 2016 Invictus Games, and he spends 20 hours a week training in a Penn State University program designed for disabled athletes to make sure he gives it his best bet. “I’m in the best shape of my life right now,” Rohn said. “I’m a far better person after this life experience. Things go wrong. Stuff happens.… It’s what you do internally to deal with those problems. I’m a stronger person for it, at the end of the day.” Rohn was injured in Iraq in 2009 by an insurgent-thrown grenade.
Army Sergeant Laruen Montoya’s Invictus Games training has resulted in such fitness the Army has deemed her to be fit for duty once again, despite losing her lower leg to an IED in Afghanistan in 2014. She is now a power lifter in addition to her swimming, volleyball, cycling, shot-putting and running. “She might have lost her leg and people will be like, ‘Oh, poor you.’ And she’s like, there’s no poor me. She doesn’t want to be pitied; she doesn’t want to be different,” her coach Steve Galavan told ESPN. “So he works 10 times harder so people can see she’s normal. She can do everything everybody else can do.”
Army Staff Sergeant Michael Kacer lost his left arm in 2008 while deployed in Afghanistan. He’ll be participating in the track, swimming and rowing events at the 2016 Invictus Games after winning a bronze medal in the 100 meter, a silver medal in 200 meter and a silver medal in indoor rowing at London 2014. “My fondest memory is my mom seeing me compete and finally understanding it isn’t about winning, but competing, entertaining and leaving everything out there for all to be motivated and inspired by,” he said of his first experience of Invictus.
ESPN’s five-day coverage of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 kicks off on ESPN2 on Sunday, May 8, at 8 p.m. ET and continues until Thursday, May 12.
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