TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE
An important part of the Invictus Games is always exchange of ideas and stories between athletes, families and support staff. At this year’s symposium, participants and supporters looked at how far they’ve come together, as well as at the path ahead.
Service Members never serve alone. Not only are they supported by their unit, which deploys with them into various theatres of conflict, but also by their families, which have their back at home.
“For militaries, for active duty, you can’t look at the individual – we all serve together” Trish Stropes, Vice President of the Strategic Initiatives for Fisher House Foundation, puts it at the symposium which is part of the Invictus Games 2022 in the Hague.
The Fisher House Foundation is an American-based foundation, supporting families and veterans. They and Invictus Games have identified families as a main factor in service member’s rehabilitation.
The Invictus Games offer a great platform to include families in the rehabilitation process, because all participants and their families can support one another here. “Your family gets larger […] seeing the strong participants and families from around the world”, Mason Heibel agrees. Heibel’s wife, Elizabeth Marks, SFC in the US Army, was wounded in Iraq and underwent below the knee amputation on her left leg.
Now, both support each other. Heibel, having left the military due to medical reasons himself, now volunteers as a spokesperson for mental health amongst veterans.
Stefan ‘Wolf’ Wolput’s story puts the importance of family support into focus. When Wolf and his wife, Katrien de Pillecyn married, she had already been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He promised her at the beginning of their relationship: I will take care of you for all of our life together.
Then, disaster struck: Wolf’s right leg became paralysed. To this day no neurologist was able to identify the cause or a treatment for his condition. This caused a role-reversal. Wolf fell into a “deep, black hole” and Katrien had to take care of him. “I didn’t sign up for this”, Katrien said in regard to their previous agreement.
But she took on her new role. “Without Katrien, I would have killed myself”, Wolf says. Instead, they both go the path to rehabilitation together.
The biggest trigger for Wolf’s rehabilitation is seeing the Invictus Games 2014 on television. “If they can do it, I can do it!”, he exclaims and starts his journey to recovery.
2017 he is the first person with a disability to climb the 8516m hihg Lhotse and 2022 he partakes in the Invictus Games for the first time.
“The stigma, that was allowed to exist [in regards to psychological trauma] has to die within our generation”, Elizabeth Marks remarks at the end of the Symposium. That strikes a key issue that veterans deal with, when talking about their experiences in and after traumatic events or injury to body and soul. Some feel like they should be ashamed for being injured, or that they do not deserve help.