The INVICTUS GAMES DÜSSELDORF 2023 presented by Boeing were not only for the participants a special experience. Even the reporters enjoyed the pleasant encounters in the metropolis on the Rhine river. The retrospect of a professional sports reporter.
There is only a little space left for more pins on the ribbon of the chain hanging from the wheelchair. Hardly any other participant in the INVICTUS GAMES 23 presented by Boeing lives the international idea as intensively as Annika Hutsler, 27, from Los Angeles, whom I meet in the athletics hall.
She has exchanged pins with other participants from England, France, Denmark and many other countries. She is celebrating her success in the 100 metres, draped in a US flag, shows me quite unabashedly the carbon support she uses in the athletics competitions and talks about her further sporting plans in German. She learned it from an Austrian and a Bavarian while skateboarding in Venice Beach.
The meeting with the sporty lady from the USA, who also once modelled for Tommy Hilfiger, was one of the very special encounters in Düsseldorf. The conversations were so different from those with the professional footballers from Mönchengladbach and Dortmund, Bochum or Leverkusen that I usually experience in my everyday professional life as a reporter for the “kicker” sports magazine.
It is this enthusiasm of the participants about meeting other soldiers who have been wounded in body or soul in service to their country, it is this togetherness, usually with a smile on their lips, that makes this week a special experience for the observers as well.
In rugby, for example, two wheelchairs crash into each other at full speed, the two opponents look puzzled at first, then they high-five each other and roll away smiling. For eight days, the MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA was a home for respect.
And there were always impressive encounters on the fringes of the events, which sharpened the view of brave competitors whom we met on the fringes of the training session, after the award ceremony, or sometimes in the catacombs of the arena. Like Lealand Muller, who showed me his bright red handwheel and told me that he had been responsible for everything to do with chains in the Canadian military, “from chainsaws to tanks”.
I was quite surprised on the sideline of a basketball game when William Pieczarka suddenly got up from his wheelchair and sat down next to me on a bench for the interview. Physically, everything was okay, said the ex-Marine soldier from Massachussets, who was wounded when deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The problem is in my head”.
That’s why he usually wears sunglasses when he exercises, but they sometimes fog up when he exerts himself and cloud his vision. I also heard from him what many participants emphasise: How much sport helps to give structure and meaning to the days, how he enjoys the community experience. “This is heaven”, the Games are heavenly. He wants to try winter sports soon.
At first, only Sandro Lecca was a little hesitant when I asked him to talk to me after his archery session. Later, however, the ex-soldier from Cagliari thawed. We talked – this time with the help of an interpreter – about Ruud Gullit and Rudi Völler, of course football, Calcio, which is always a topic to discuss.
The Englishwoman Martha Prinsloo caught my eye because she rolled to the weight bench with dachshund Daisy on her lap during the bench press. There, the original Bavarian Helmuth Platzer was watching closely as a referee, one of the many helpers and referees at the event.
He travels the world as a judge, sometimes to Argentina or South Africa, soon to Austin/Texas. He explained to me the finer points of the rules in the competition. We refrained from the rather flat gag in our blog story that Helmuth, aged 72, is obviously not yet on the scrap heap.
The participants were very open, very refreshing; good for the reporter that for once it wasn’t about centre-backs and counter-pressing, double sixes and video replays. Instead, it was all about great togetherness across national borders, about new acquaintances, an all-round successful event. “Heaven” not only for the participants.
Everyone was a winner in Düsseldorf. The more than 500 starters from 21 nations, regardless of their sporting performance. The spectators, who created a great atmosphere. And last but not least, the reporters, who were able to experience completely different conversations and interlocutors. Of course, it was also about sport. But at the Invictus Games, sport is therapy and not a means of earning a living.
Author: Oliver Bitter
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