The Invictus Games. This was an event I had to be involved in for many reasons. I just didn’t expect it to end with a once in a lifetime event.
I won’t bore you with how I got involved, the training or how everything went right on the IT Help Desk side of the games. We were bored, which was good as everything worked as it should and very little broke. We got to wander and see athletes from around the world pushing themselves in ways that amazed and inspired. I met some great people from all ends of the IT spectrum…with the interesting side that almost everyone had no formal IT training, but were all in the field. It was a great group of 10, tripping over each other on the “bump in” and then split into two teams for shifts that were still trying to avoid those trips…and my wheels.
On the last day of competition at the Pan Am Sports Centre, with a full day of wheelchair basketball almost done, and dozens of swimming heats to go, all 10 of us were finally back together. An overlap of morning and evening shifts that just happened at the perfect time. We were able to brush by royalty…and witness that Prince enter the games with an ex-president, and ex-vice-president and his wife to watch the USA play France. No matter your political leanings, don’t kid yourselves. Prince Harry, Obama, and the Bidens walking onto that court was a huge deal…and the finale of a fascinating hour of close encounters, rumours and hushed whispers. So let me walk you through a massive VIP visit and how close I came to royalty (seriously…my elbow could have hit the Prince’s royal tush)!
Wheelchair basketball was going all day with some exciting and physical play. Canada lost to the Netherlands, but had a thrilling last two seconds with some great sportsmanship by the winning team. Netherlands up 15-5 with the game in the bag. Inbound play by the Netherlands, who opted to pass the ball to a woman on the Canadian team with a quick pass to a Canuck at the top of the key and swoosh! Nothing but net 3 pointer as the buzzer sounds. It didn’t change the outcome but made for a great finish and showed you what these games are all about. The medals matter…but something that gets lost in these games is that the competitors aren’t chosen because they are the best. They are chosen because the games can best help THEM. There were moments like this all over Toronto last week, but I digress.
It was 3:30pm and the IT team is up in the VOC (hey it’s the military…you know their acronyms…Venue Operations Centre) preparing to hand off the morning shift to the evening shift on the longest day of the games. Nothing major to report, just the few minor outages and some plans to start tear down early…when in pop two of our supervisors. You can see the excitement on their faces as Fred uses that tone of one trying to whisper but failing horribly, “Harry’s just outside the door!”. This grabbed everyone’s attention, but we can’t all go rushing out…so I took the lead that the chair allows me and spin around and out the door. There are advantages of the chair taking up the whole doorway.
Now understand, we had a great spot for the VOC. Right outside the door, a long hallway had windows that faced straight down to the courts where sitting volleyball and basketball were being played. A little farther down and around a corner was a floor to ceiling window which gave me a perfect view without having to hitch up to look over window ledge. So when I come around the corner, I am confronted with the Prince himself, casually leaning against the corner of the window, taking in the New Zealand vs. Australia game that was a real barn burner. Only two officials in sight, one a coach from the UK, the other might have been security, but if so it was VERY laid back security. I casually zipped out and past, as if I wasn’t aware who he was, my pushes literally taking my elbow inches from her arse. Yes ladies. You can all swoon now and be jealous. Honestly, did that man ever wear anything other than khakis and a button downed casual shirt?
I wheeled past him and up to one of my younger coworkers, Keerthan (who I seriously have to apologize to as he was amazing to work with, but none of us could remember how to say his name…and couldn’t bring ourselves to ask him after day 1! Sorry, Keerthan!). I placed my hand on his back to swing as easily around beside him as I could as he turned and looked down at me with the wide-eyed look of “do you know who that is? I’m trying to keep my shit together!” and I gave him just as obvious a look of a semi-silent “I KNOW!”
Now look. I swore to myself years ago, that if I ever met any kind of celebrity I would not make a big deal of it and let them have their time. But…but this was a royal! Now, as much as Shannon berated me for not at least thanking the Prince for putting these games together, you have to understand we were given strict instructions of how to handle meeting one of the royals. Basically came down to a simple rule, or how I interpreted it. Don’t bug them. And don’t even think about taking a picture. So, no proof beyond others to back me up. A few minutes there watching the game with him and off her went to the VIP lounge down the hall.
Now the rumour mill really began to fly. The staff of the Centre itself (not Invictus volunteers) had been aware for a week that another dignitary would be visiting. In hushed tones, we were told…Obama! Now of course, many wanted to know if Michelle was coming, but I mentioned that Barack was in town for a speech but hadn’t heard about Michelle (I’m so tight with them after all). We had a parade of staff and volunteers wander in to share in the gossip and I admit…I was pretty shameless in discussing it. I finally went to take a perch at the large window overlooking the field and running track. My shift was officially done, but I was in no rush.
Soon I was joined by another staff member of the Pan Am centre who quietly confirmed and filled in some details about the former President’s visit. By this time you couldn’t help but notice that there were police EVERYWHERE…well them and some gentlemen and women in casual sport coats with ear pieces who were definitely NOT volunteers. The staff member laughed and told me that he had heard we even had some people up walking on the roof. We paused at that point as at the far end of the arena we could see the Prince walk in, the President beside him. By that time the crowd started to know something was up and the applause began to rise. I have to say, for a man who was President less than a year ago, he didn’t overwhelm the place. A lot of handshakes, security keeping a watchful eye, but never overbearing, the Bidens, Obama and Harry were all seated in a front row with the other spectators. With that, USA vs. France began. Trust me, it wasn’t going to be close. They watched the game intently though, cheering on their team amid the discussions that Harry and Obama kept up. It was fascinating and ended up being my one of my highlights of the games. I took a video of the entrance and you can see it here (and forgive my cardinal mistake of filming in portrait mode):
This REALLY undersells how amazing the performances were of those wounded and ill warriors from all over the world. The sight of the Jordanian team winning a sitting volleyball match and doing a traditional dance in a circle, most of them with only one leg, will be one that will make me smile for ages. In the end, we did what volunteers are supposed to do. Helped with a smile, stayed invisible when that was needed and did our best to keep things rolling so that the spotlight shone on those it was meant to. The soldiers of 17 countries, coming together under a banner of peace to help heal wounds seen and unseen.
I want to give a special thanks to the awesome IT Help Desk team at PAC! It was my pleasure to serve with you all.