Tag Archives: Invictus Games

Close Encounters of the Prince Harry Kind

Today’s post is guest-authored by a woman named Ashley who has shared with us our her account of being within close proximity to Prince Harry during the Invictus Games.  Ashley offers incredible insight into Prince Harry, his warmth, sincerity and genuine commitment to his role as both a prince and a humanitarian.  The photos Ashley took of the driving force behind Invictus are the end of her incredible account.

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On Monday, May 9, 2016, my sister Amy and I were attending the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida. The Invictus Games were established by Prince Harry as a competitive international event for wounded veterans. We were able to attend the Opening Ceremonies on Sunday, May 8th at the ESPN Wide World of Sports venue at Disney, at which Prince Harry, Michelle Obama, Pres. George W. Bush, and Morgan Freeman made appearances and spoke. We’d already fully enjoyed that event, and as a sort of “cherry on top” we decided to attend two sporting events on the first day of competition – Monday.

On Monday, the first event we were scheduled to attend was the Indoor Rowing Finals, held in a large stadium called the HP Fieldhouse. We arrived at 1:45pm, about 15min after the event had begun, and as we entered the stands we showed our ticket to a worker who then let us know that we had the choice either of sitting in section 103, which was closest to the action, or in section 203, which was one level up. Since I had my larger camera with me and wanted to get some wide-perspective shots, I suggested to Amy that we sit in 203 first (which only had about 6 people seated there at the time) and then move to 103 later, as the competition was supposed to run for at least 3-4 hours and we knew we’d have plenty of time to move around.

When we were walking up the wide cement steps to section 203, we saw an Australian gentleman wearing an athlete’s jersey sitting a few rows up on the stairs, playing a gigantic didgeridoo. I was excited, because I’d never seen one outside of TV, so I made a mental note that I wanted to get a picture of him before we moved to the other section.

We sat about four rows up in the section, Amy in the end seat and I one in, and the Australian man was sitting just to the right of Amy, one step up. After about 10 minutes of taking wide-shot photos of the stadium, I decided to turn and ask the Aussie if he would take Amy’s and my picture with the stadium in the background – and I intended to also ask if I could get a pic of him with his instrument.

However, as I half- stood and turned to ask him, I suddenly realized there was another man who had come and sat next to him on the step. And after a split second, I realized it was Prince Harry!! First, my brain said, “That is Prince Harry!” then immediately I thought, “That’s not possible. It can’t be Prince Harry!” And then my brain did some sort of calculation that went “Red hair – beard – black Invictus polo shirt – lanky build – it IS PRINCE HARRY.” And for a second my heart stopped and my brain just about fried. And my next thought was “how am I going to tell Amy without making any noise??” because Prince Harry was less than a foot from her right shoulder, seated a step above, and I knew if I said anything above a whisper he would hear me!!

I sat down, turned to Amy, grabbed her knee and said in a very soft whisper, “Prince Harry is JUST behind your shoulder!!” Amy says she thought I was joking until she saw my face and realized that I was actually serious. I had to repeat myself for her to understand. And then it was so strange because even though she knew he was there, she couldn’t turn around to look because she was too close!! So we just sat perfectly still for a few seconds collecting our thoughts. I had both my big camera and my phone in my hand, and I debated whether I wanted to try to use the big camera, but it was so obvious that Prince Harry was trying to be incognito (up there in the non-lighted, empty stands, sitting on a cement step) and so I decided not to use the big camera. Instead, I took a series of pictures silently using my phone with Prince Harry in them. I’m sure his security detail noticed Amy and I taking cell phone pics, but we never interrupted him or made any scene, so they never said anything to us. A couple of people did step up and ask if they could take photos of him and Prince Harry allowed them permission – he even tried to play the guy’s didgeridoo but failed miserably and hilariously, so everyone was laughing. We found out later that one of the people taking pics was from the UK paper The Daily Mail, because they posted an article about it two days later.

Prince Harry continued to talk to the Aussie for over half an hour, and then they moved into the seats…and Prince Harry sat in the stadium seat DIRECTLY behind me. I was so freaked out and so nervous and excited, and all I could think about was that he had such long legs and I was terrified that if I moved I would hit him in the knees with my hair or my head!! So I just sat still and only leaned forward if I moved at all – I ended up with a backache from being so still!! But he stayed for such a long time and was talking about how strong the athletes are, and how he liked the music they were using, and just generally was so charming and friendly to the Aussie athlete. After a while, it became obvious that more and more people were noticing Prince Harry in the stands. Our section started to fill up with people, and several asked for photos with him. A couple of times I even had to stand up to let people into our row, and I actually had to lean back toward him which was so awkward and I felt bad about invading his personal space (although in a stadium it’s unavoidable). He did allow athletes and their families to get pics, but at one point when there were multiple people coming we heard him say (very nicely) “Ok, but please don’t make this a thing,” as in, please don’t start a chain reaction of people wanting pictures. Prince Harry spent the whole rest of the time cheering for all the athletes, especially the UK team, and at one point he let out a huge cheer for an athlete from Afghanistan who was there on his own. He was absolutely unfailingly polite and friendly to everyone we heard him speaking to.

Amy and I both went through basically the same mental process during this time, which was that we realized he was trying to be incognito, he didn’t want to have everyone trying to get pictures, and we both thought that for once it might be nice for him to just be able to enjoy a sporting event without everyone near him pestering him for pictures. And since this was his event, we both realized that the best thing we could do would be to demonstrate that we were there to cheer on the US team (which we were!) and that we were having a great time (which we DEFINITELY were!). So instead of trying to interact with him, we mutually agreed to just snap a few pictures with our phones but basically leave him alone and act as if he was just any other person there watching with us.

After so many people started coming to ask him for pictures, Prince Harry left with his team, and we were left in the stands to have our fangirl freakout in peace!! Amy and I immediately started texting friends and posting on social media, and just discussing the whole crazy situation.

And then, just about the time that the section had cleared of most of the other people and we had relaxed, Prince Harry came back!!! This time he came with about 6+ people, and sat two rows behind us and one seat to my left. He was sitting with a man we didn’t recognize, and his security detail created more of a perimeter for him that time, so that he wouldn’t be disturbed. Again, he just spent the time chatting and was so engaged and so animated talking about the athletes and venue and event – it seemed clear that he was enjoying himself! That time, they stayed for less than an hour and they left again…and then about half an hour later they came back AGAIN!

Amy says we must have passed the creeper test, because by the third time it was pretty obvious that both Prince Harry and his detail weren’t concerned about us doing anything crazy. In fact, one of his security team sat just in front of us and made eye contact and grinned at us as if to communicate that he knew they had made our day, but clearly they wouldn’t have come back if they thought we were weird creepy people!

The third time Prince Harry was near us, he spent more time standing on the steps and either chatting with his team or taking pictures. At one point he walked a bit lower and snapped a lot of photos on his cell phone before returning to a seat above us. By that last visit, we weren’t even taking pictures anymore because we were just so happy that he was back and weren’t worried about getting more – we already had quite a few!! He stayed for a shorter period of time then, and left with his entourage. A few minutes later, he handed out the medals in one of the Indoor Rowing medal ceremonies where the UK had placed, and the woman holding the medals for him was so flustered she accidentally fell down and dropped them! Prince Harry helped her up, but I felt for her because she was so embarrassed and I knew exactly why!!

In total, Prince Harry was within 5 feet or less of Amy and I for over two hours, and we could hear his conversation for the majority of that time.

Our impression of the Prince is that he is incredibly genuine, charming, friendly and unassuming. He laughs a lot, is extremely expressive when he talks, and is gracious to everyone with whom he interacts. One thing that really stuck out to us was how “in-the-moment” he was – he was near enough to us for us to hear about two hour’s worth of his conversation, and the entire time was spend chatting about the Invictus Games in general, about the athletes, about his team, about the venue, etc. He is definitely the kind of person who takes full advantage of the present moment!! He is good-looking (and smells great!), but to be honest his personality is really what makes him as attractive as he is; he was so charming even in that very low-key situation that it was pretty amazing.

There are very few people by whom I would be this star-struck, but Monday’s experience ranks as one of the most exciting of my life so far. And I’m not at all sorry that we didn’t attempt to interact with Prince Harry or get a picture with him, because it clearly resulted in us having a great deal more time in his presence – and I wouldn’t trade that for any picture! I just hope that our discretion did contribute toward his being able to more peacefully and fully enjoy the experience of the amazing Invictus Games he established. He deserves so much respect for making this amazing event happen!!

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Warrior Prince

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
– Winston Churchill

Over the weekend, my Twitter feed was approximately 60% Prince Harry and Invictus Games, 20% Cute Animals and 20% makeup and miscellaneous.  The percentages were encouraging because it meant that Invictus news was making the rounds, even beating out some undeniably precious pandas.

With the buzz surrounding Invictus Games, especially with the charming Prince Harry involved, conversation can quickly veer off course, no matter how noble the cause.  With Prince Harry promoting Invictus to raise awareness, outlets have been latching on to his casual remarks in order to sell the fairytale and not the cause.  Sure, wounded warriors who have overcome great adversity is cool and all but Prince Harry is like totally looking for a girlfriend and OMG!

A few hours ago, I did a Google search for Prince Harry and this is what was at the top of the News chain:

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Really?  Even during such an impressive massive undertaking as Invictus, Prince Harry’s love life is still the focus?

On Twitter,  has done a tremendous job in separating the key moments from all the noise and Tweeting the best of Prince Harry’s laudable efforts.  I highly recommend following peppersmint for the best of both the Invictus Games and Prince Harry.

The Invictus Games are a sporting event created by Prince Harry, this year uniting 500 wounded, sick and injured armed services personnel from fourteen countries as they compete in the events of archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis. (Source: Invictus Games 2016 Official Website).  Invictus is Latin for “unconquered” and derives its name from a poem by William Earnest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
 My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
 Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Prince Harry has been the driving force behind Invictus which was launched in 2014, initially inspired by the 2013 Warrior Games in the US and expanded upon by the prince who was in the army for ten years until June of last year.  Supporting those who have served  their country is a cause to which Prince Harry is deeply devoted, but not all of his work makes the papers.  As noted earlier this year by Herazeus, “Harry volunteers 3 days a week with the Ministry of Defence’s Recovery Personal programme unit.”   More information on the programme “designed to ensure wounded, injured and sick service personnel receive co-ordinated support” can be found here.  In September of last year, Prince Harry was joined by his brother Prince William in building homes for veterans in Manchester, an effort which did get quite a bit of press.

Having served in the army and devoted himself to military causes, Prince Harry is aware that the men and women who risk their lives defending their countries often have difficulties readjusting to civilian life, away from the brotherhood and sisterhood of the armed forces.  Those who have been wounded while serving their countries don’t stop being soldiers when their injuries prohibit them from returning to combat, that’s when the real battle begins for wounded warriors.  Some suffer through painful rehabilitation, having to learn how to use parts of their bodies again.  Tragically, some have to find the strength to learn to live without parts of their body.  Many find themselves crushed under the weight of all they have lost gasping for hope.  The hell seems never-ending and Churchill’s famous words “Never, never, never give up,” aren’t a rallying cry for those deeply scarred but a reminder that  giving up is an option.

Mike Roggio, a competitor at the Invictus Games who had broken his neck in a naval accident, shared with People, “One of the biggest obstacles in my recovery was dealing with depression. I went from being an athlete and a very able-bodied person to being bed-ridden and in diapers for several months.  I couldn’t even push off the wall [of the pool] at first, but a few months down the road I was actually racing other people in the pool.”

With Invictus Games,  Prince Harry reminds the injured, wounded and sick service personnel that the warrior spirit can’t be conquered.  Through this competition within the brotherhood and sisterhood of the armed forces, Prince Harry gives them something to battle for and reminds them their injuries don’t define who they are or who they can be.

Opening ceremonies for Invictus 2016 were held on May 8th in front of 10,000 spectators.  A member of our community, Melete, was there at the opening ceremonies and shared her experience with us:

“Attending the Opening Ceremony was a truly rewarding experience. I’m fortunate to live about 10 minutes away, so I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. My spouse is also a veteran with lingering issues from his military service, and I have so much respect for how Harry’s brought these Games about.

It’s almost difficult to describe just how happy everyone was to be there. The audience was enthusiastic about everything, and it was great to see people cheering all the competitors from all the countries as they walked out. In fact, the ladies sitting behind us were also locals, and they brought on the loud whistles and cheers for every country. People completely understood why there were there and just how important it was. I loved the sense that these competitors should all be the heroes we look up to. And honestly, I loved the push for hiring veterans, as that’s also a huge part of the event. Yes, the competitors were there to challenge themselves physically, but they’re also proving to the world that they’re still valuable members of society who have something to contribute in the workforce.

The flyover was awesome, and the helicopter bringing in the Invictus flag was pretty amazing. We could see the helicopters fly past, but from where I was sitting I couldn’t see the paratrooper exit (except on the screen). But everyone cheered when the flag got to the stage. The silent drill team was also incredible, and the audience loved it. The Invictus choir was one of my favorite parts, really impressive. The singers were just as moved as the people watching, so it made for a beautiful moment. Because the ceremony was being broadcast live, there were actually commercial breaks, and things would be shifted around for the next part of the ceremony. At first, it was a little confusing, but then we all got the hang of it, and when everything seemed to come to a stop, people around us would say, “Commercial break!” It was a fun group in the stadium and seemed to be a pretty good mix of locals and people from other countries. Lots of people from the UK, but that didn’t surprise me, since half the people who live around me are British. It was just nice to see so much support for the event, and if it wasn’t a full house (9500) it was very close to it.

James Blunt brought down the house. I’ve never seen him perform before, but it was clear he was enjoying himself but not making it all about himself. Then Harry walked out, and the stadium went wild. It wasn’t a celebrity thing, though, and Harry didn’t act like a celebrity or like this was all about him. It was clear that everyone genuinely appreciated the work he’d done with Invictus and bringing attention to wounded veterans. And he responded by turning everything away from himself and back on the competitors. I’ve seen other people comment about how good his speech was, but I’ll mention it again. It was really, really good. He carried himself well, he spoke with confidence, and I didn’t notice any hint of hesitation or even nerves. (There were teleprompters at the base of the platform, but I didn’t see him or anyone else who spoke rely much on them. They all knew what they were there to say.) It’s almost like Harry’s finally reached that place of maturity in which he knows who he is, why he’s doing this work, and he’s totally at peace with himself. I’ve seen a few complaints elsewhere that he’s making the Games all about himself, but nothing could be further from the truth in the Opening Ceremony. He was there to support and encourage, and he gave a speech that reflected it. In fact, everyone who stood up there and spoke had something very important to say, a piece of the pie if that makes sense, to remind the spectators and the audience watching from home just what the Games were all about. They weren’t about Harry, or Michelle Obama, or Morgan Freeman. They were about the wounded veterans who were reclaiming their sense of themselves and showing the world that you can be a whole person even if you lost your legs. They were also about the invisible injuries that are just as devastating, because people don’t always feel comfortable talking about them. So Harry et al talked about them, as they should.

(For what it’s worth, I only saw him from my seat, although one of the ladies sitting behind us saw him, Michelle Obama, and Robin Roberts when they came into the stadium. She must not have been too impressed, though, because when James Blunt said something about Harry being hot, she said, “No he’s not!”)

We stayed until just after the British soldiers spoke (right after DT). We had a small child with us, who was starting to look desperate for sleep, so we thought we’d beat the crowds. No luck there, as quite a few other people had the same idea. The show was supposed to run from 8-10 pm, but we left at 10:30, and it went for another 10-15 minutes. We saw the fireworks as we were walking back to the car.

Only downside had to do with getting in and getting out. VERY slow entry due to security (TSA checking bags and Secret Service monitoring metal detectors), and leaving was kind of horrible because the parking lot exit was poorly managed. Despite my living a few minutes away, we didn’t get home until shortly before midnight. That aside, it was worth it, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to go and support such an amazing cause.”

The games run from the 8th until the 12th at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

The TV Schedule of Events for the Invictus Games has been posted on espn.go.com (all times ET):

Sunday, May 8:

  • Opening ceremony, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Monday, May 9:

  • Powerlifting finals, 8 a.m.-11 a.m. (ESPN3)
  • Rowing finals, 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Archery finals, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Day 1 recap show, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Day 1 recap show (re-air), 10:30 p.m.-midnight (ESPN2)

Tuesday, May 10:

  • Track and field finals, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Sitting volleyball semifinals, 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Sitting volleyball gold/bronze medal matches, 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Day 2 recap show, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Day 2 recap show (re-air), 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (ESPN2)

Wednesday, May 11:

  • Swimming finals, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Wheelchair rugby semifinals, 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Wheelchair rugby gold/bronze medal matches, 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Day 3 recap show, 7 p.m.-8 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Day 3 recap show (re-air), 11 p.m.-midnight (ESPN2)

Thursday, May 12:

  • Wheelchair tennis final, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. (ESPN3)
  • Wheelchair basketball semifinals, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Wheelchair basketball gold/bronze medal matches, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Closing ceremony, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. (ESPN2)

Sunday, May 15:

  • Encore presentation, 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (ABC)

The work Prince Harry has done is so inspiring.  Not only is he supporting service personnel who have overcome great obstacles, he is celebrating the resiliency of the human spirit.  Each of us in our lives deals with great adversity at some point.  These games are a reminder of what we can achieve when we embrace our own inner warrior and fight back with everything we’ve got. And hopefully, if we’re lucky, we’ll have people with the warmth, compassion and generosity of spirit Prince Harry has shown to share in our triumph.

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