US warrior athletes hit the pool in preparation for Invictus Games

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Vucic
  • Air Force News Service
USA team athletes, who will compete here in the inaugural Invictus Games, took to the pool the morning of Sept. 9, to fine tune their technique and get familiar with the water they will compete against 13 other nations in.

The countdown is on and the wounded warriors are in day two of their three-day training, with the swimming pool offering something unique.

“The big draw is that it is a non-gravity activity,” said Jan Prims, one of U.S. team's swimming coaches. “All the restrictions where the disabilities contend with gravity are eliminated. The great equalizer is the water.”

Prims, a 47-year swimming coach, has coached at the Olympic and collegiate level, but said when he coaches wounded warriors or Paralympians, he garners the most satisfaction.

Beyond the physical, there is a mental advantage that some athletes discover in the pool.

“It’s therapeutic to be in the water,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Matthew Burke. “(It gives me) the confidence to know that I’m still in the game. It’s hard to go from superman to nothing -- hero to zero if you would. I used to be tremendously athletic and I can’t even throw a ball to my kids now. So (swimming) is definitely helping me; not just my physical endurance, but my ability psychologically to get back in the game.”

The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered.’ The games were created to embody the fighting spirit of wounded, injured and sick warriors, and recognize the road to recovery they are on through sporting achievement.

This is the first year for the Invictus Games, which were conceived by Prince Harry of Wales after being inspired by a 2013 trip to the annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The major difference between Invictus and the Warrior Games however, is that instead of the Warrior Games’ interservice competition; Invictus will pit 14 nations’ wounded warriors against each other in a country-versus-country format.

Though competitors are attending the games with the intention of winning for their own country, there is an aspect of camaraderie across all nations.

“I love how many different nations we see,” said retired Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Red Ramos. “It’s amazing to see how different we are, but more fun is to see how similar we are. We’ve had the absolute best time; we’ve felt more than welcome. I always knew that we were going to have a good time here, but it has been nothing but sportsmanship and the friendliest people.”

The Invictus Games will take place Sept. 10-14, with athletes competing in sports such as swimming, track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and various others.

“This right here -- this is what it’s all about,” Burke said. “I’ve had a lifelong dream to represent America; this is why I joined the Air Force. Being here in London is just something amazing.”