Warrior Games

Opening Ceremony with the Games Torch.

Sgt Pete Lauder

Warrior Games, what is the Warrior Games?
This is the question I was asking work colleagues and myself after receiving an email from Help for Heroes (H4H) asking if I wanted to partake in the forthcoming event. With a little bit of research, i.e. Google, I was able to find out about the games, what they are intended for and where they would be situated.

Since 2010, the Warrior Games have taken place annually and it was after opening the 2013 games that HRH Prince Harry created the Invictus Games (IG). Since its conception, the US Armed Forces have been competing against each other at these events; with the teams including the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Navy/Coast Guard and Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The UK being invited to partake since 2015 and the Australian Defence Force invited to join as of 2017.

The games were designed by the US DoD (Department of Defence) to provide Wounded Injured and Sick (WIS) serving/veteran personnel to compete in 8 adaptive sports, ranging from sitting volleyball, wheel chair basketball to swimming. It helps individuals by enabling them to compete against like-minded/injured individuals, experience the camaraderie they once did when in the military, and a chance to meet fellow friends or people who they served with.

So how did I get invited to such a prestigious event?
Almost 3 years ago, I was diagnosed with an Acetabular tear of the left hip. This is where I had torn the cartilage within the hip joint. Initially it was thought I would need a small operation to repair the cartilage and then be back to some sort of normality within 4 months. However, this was not the case, I had caused a lot more damage to the point where the surgeon had to make a choice. It was either to perform a new technique, a micro fracture, or to have a hip replacement.

Due to my age the hip replacement was a no go, so he performed the micro fracture. (Won’t bore with the details you can Google it). With extensive rehabilitation and continuing physiotherapy. I was able to get back on my feet within 3 months. Going from being quite an active individual, to then not being able to do anything, not being able to run, or to even do things with my wife and children, was a very difficult time.

I then decided I needed to do something to get active again and was told that swimming would be a great sport for me, as it would have no impact on my joints, and still allow me to lead an active lifestyle. When doing this twice a week, someone suggested I should contact H4H and to see about applying for the Invictus Games.

My initial thoughts were, I am not disabled, or injured enough to enter. However, upon reading more, it looked like it was a possibility. After some initial emails, providing some timings and distances, I was asked along to a training camp at Bath University. This was a humbling, but amazing experience.

The weekend camp was an opportunity to meet fellow athletes, along with enjoying the training provided by Para-Olympic coaches.

At first I felt a little out of my depth, especially when meeting some of the individuals, however, as with most things military after a lot of banter those fears were soon dismissed. The camp was very successful and provided me with extra information and skills to take away.

A few weeks later, I was then asked to come along to another training camp. However, this one was to determine those that would be going to the games. This time held in Plymouth and over 3 days, this was a very intense camp with 3 training sessions held per day.

It was during this that we were told out of 1200 applicants we were the final 300 that the team of 90 would be chosen from and to leave the camp knowing this was quite an achievement for me. Considering I had only taken up swimming around 4 months prior to this.

With my initial application training logs/schedules plus my performances at the training camps it was a waiting game to find out if I was successful for IG17. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful this year, however due to my hard work, commitment and effort in getting this far, I was lucky enough to be offered a place at the Warrior Games 17 instead.

Warrior Games 17 – Chicago
With bags packed with team kit and other items for the 12 days in Chicago we ventured off on the 28th June allowing us two days acclimatisation prior to the start of the games. The games started on the 30th June with team briefings, accreditations, categorising (like the Paralympics) and further kitting provided by Under Armour. This allowed us to transition into new time zone, but also to be familiar with our venues and travel for the upcoming events.

This day was brought to a close with the opening ceremony. It was being held at Soldier Field with Jon Stewart (American Comedian) and Kelly Clarkson & Blake Shelton performing at the venue.

This is a day I will not forget, as I had the honour of leading the team out at the opening ceremony in the capacity of Vice-Captain. In true British style we had to do something to outshine the other US teams, so we improvised as we walked out.

The festivities out of the way, the competitions started, with sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball events were up first. With vacancies on both I volunteered to help with the sitting volleyball, and after a few training sessions, started to master the skills required to play. We played all 7 teams, and although we only managed to beat the Australians, we did however, impress all of the US teams, as we took them all to the wire.

Only losing our games by 2 points, we showed team spirit and determination, for which we were commended by the other teams who had been training for 12 months prior to this. With archery and shooting next, we had a chance of some medals. As some of the team had previously competed at Invictus, their experience and mental focus stood them in good stead for the competitions. With all rounds completed, team UK walked away with 4 Gold and 1 Bronze in the archery event. We were on the board!

Cycling was next with a full day of competition planned. With 10 of the team competing, across upright, recumbent and hand bikes, we thought we had a chance with some medals. With anticipated temperatures of 35 degrees by 10am, the cycling was brought forward to start at 0700, which meant the team had to report by 0530. With tired individuals lining up, the remaining team members were there to provide support and assistance.

This helped as we ended the cycling with a further 3 medals (2 silver and 1 bronze). The next 2 days were occupied with track and field, which were at different venues. This meant splitting the team so some could help at both locations, again very hot days, but our team performed well, bringing in a total of 10 medals.

During the games, the 4th July celebrations were planned so we had a break and were provided by a day at a Chicago Cubs baseball game, finished off with watching fireworks at Navy Pier (large pier used during 2nd World War for pilot training, now a massive entertainment complex).The sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball medal games to be decided, the venue chosen was the United Centre (home of the Chicago Bulls). With half time entertainment, and many celebrities there it felt like we were at a NBA game.

With this lead us to the final day of competition, the swimming gala. This was my main event and the one I had been training for the last 4 months. It was on this day I realised I had left my competition shorts behind so had to wear the generous gift provided by my colleagues, a pair of ‘warrior speedos’. These I will add were a hit with the US teams and others watching and people asked for pictures with me.

A very early start, and a quick 40 min warm up, our team of swimmers were confident for the day ahead. With 15 swimmers competing across many races, we had the biggest medal haul that day and were commended by the US teams for having a strong team. We finished with a total of 21 medals. This brought our overall total for the games to 39, with 20 Gold, 15 Silver & 4 Bronze. Although I didn’t medal, I did achieve 3 personal best times in my 50m freestyle, 50m breast stroke and 100m freestyle, While finishing a credible 4th in each of my races out of a field of 17. Both my swim coaches in Chicago and back home were impressed with my results considering only few months ago I was lucky if I finished the 100m.

With tired and weary bodies we headed for the closing ceremony, held at Navy Pier. Stories, kit, and other items were swapped with other athletes. We headed back to the hotel to pack for our flight home.

So what next?
This was a very successful games for team UK, but also personally. The opportunity to lead the UK team out at the opening ceremony, doing PR related items to promote WIS and the Games themselves, to compete at a high level is something I will not forget. The chance to renew friendships with athletes in the UK team, to meet new team mates, to form new bonds and friendships, I was also fortunate to meet 3 very inspirational athletes, Ramesh Haytasingh (SOCOM), Sarah Rudder (USMC), and Israel Del Toro ‘DT’ (Air Force), all of whom I chatted to a number of times. Hearing their stories put things into perspective; that you can overcome anything and all is not lost, I am now putting all my efforts into training for IG18. I will continue with swimming but will also be trying out for sitting volleyball, cycling and possibly archery, depending on my arrow skills, with the hope of being successful for IG, or if not at least for Warrior Games 18, which are being held in Colorado Springs. I have since received confirmation of my entry in the H4H sitting volleyball team which competes nationally and is used for IG training. I have also been asked to be an ambassador for H4H in the Cambridge/Norfolk area, to provide assistance, talks and help with charity work for them and to help those that require it.