I had the privilege of going to one of the first days of the Invictus games in Toronto a few years back. I watched the competitors file out onto the field, some with their companion animals, some with prostheses, some with damage internal. It occurred to me that every competitor was there because of a truly horrifying day at work. In a split second, their lives changed, because they clocked in. Then, as quickly as that, they were out of the field of battle, off their career trajectory, pulled out of their batallion and their platoon and their section. Away from their comrades at arms and their friends. Away from their military family. The career they’ve perhaps wanted for their whole lives, the goals they’ve been working towards for months or years or decades, altered completely because they showed up for work.
I watched, for 10 hours, as profiles of the soldier-athletes played on the viewing screens around the venue. I watched them run and cycle and throw. I watched the culmination of their fight over their injuries. Whether they were medal recipients or they struggled to finish, they were, truly, victorious. The theme of the Invictus games has stuck with me: I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul.
I can’t even imagine. I watched, from a distance, when my sister had to re-learn how to walk after Cauda Equina syndrome took the use of her legs from her. I watch her struggle still, years later, with going from an able-bodied woman to a not-quite-completely recovered woman. And not that there’s some kind of Scale of How Bad Things Are, but she wasn’t yanked out of the life she knew when her trauma happened. But I listened to her talk about the therapy (physical and psychological) that helped her heal. I’m certainly not an expert, or even in up to the ankles in what that process looks like, but I got a peek.
My Child is in the military now, as an officer cadet in the Royal Military College, eventually as a Communications and Electronics Engineer in the Air Force. He know the risks. He happily signed a 13 year contract to serve anyway. I watched him complete the obstacle course that would indoctrinate him into RMC, struggle with what he thought he could do, and succeed. His military family helped get him out of his head and over the walls. They’re kindred, bonded by the contracts they signed and the commitments they’ve made to the people of Canada and to each other.
In the last month or two, I’ve watched on Instagram as HRH the Duke of Sussex prepared for the next Invictus games. I’ve thought again about the risk that is ever-present in the choice to join the military. I watched the bonds of Child’s squadron solidify in a mud pit at the end of an obstacle course. And even in these early days, I know that if he was taken out of that family, it would devastate him.
So, back to Invictus. I watched those athletes that sizzling September afternoon, in various stages between grieving what they used to be able to do, to celebrating what they didn’t think they could ever do again. And the passion and the fight that it has taken (and continues to take) to bridge that gap.
As Remembrance Day approaches, may we remember that not all battles are fought and won on foreign soil. May we remember that victory doesn’t always look like we think it will.