Invictus Games – Swimming Finals Night

Jules: As I Ieft the pool yesterday I took a photo that speaks so many words for me. The pool looks huge, there are hundreds of spectators, and yes I swam in it. I remember the first training session in the Burnham pool. It was awful as I could only do about 4 strokes at a time, couldn’t breath or kick and I didn’t love it! What a different feeling of conquering, as I left the pool, tired but ecstatic, with 2 PBs. I’m not fast yet, I can swim but I can’t swim great distances, or very fast….. yet, but these games aren’t just about that. The best thing that happened last night that I got to see was the entire stadium in a standing ovation for a swimmer who just wouldn’t give up. It was clearly very, very hard for him to swim but he just kept going. I guess that it is hard to visualise, unless you saw it but Ray got video of it. This will be a memory I will take away, the indomitable human spirt.

We have our closing ceremony tonight [last night as I’ve been busy and haven’t got this posted up on time – Ray], and I am looking forward to celebrating with my team. Everyone of them has achieved “gold” in my eyes, 🇳🇿 they have conquered!

Nicki: Wow, it is now 11:17pm and I have just ‘finished,’ as such. I am tucked up in bed with a ‘takeaway’ meal from a bar in the hotel. I had not had anything to eat since lunch out at Archery and was a tad peckish.

I am also absolutely buggered, I am going to need a couple of days off when I get home – but that is it, all my sports are now finished. I am relieved they are finished, as I was so nervous in all events but I loved every minute. This was an amazing experience and is a truly an experience I will never forget.

Todays activities included Archery and Swimming (my least favourite event). We started the day by heading out to Fort York to shoot out against the UK, in the team event, for a Bronze medal. It was slightly different, where you shot one arrow each, under a time limit. One team shoots at a time and you then shot you second arrow in order of standing and under the same time restraints; that has been stopped till your next turn to shoot.

I was a very nervous person, surprise, surprise but just kept telling myself it was Dunedin Archery Club on a Saturday morning. I had a few off shoots but thank goodness, my team mates were on the ball and the UK team were not having the best day either. To cut a long story short, we won three ends to nil and won the Bronze Medal. Still pinching myself, over that one. I was wrapped, as were our supporters and loyal support crew, Pat, Jackie and Coach Matt – who helped us get to this stage of the competition.

Oh, had a nice chat with a certain Prince as well. Told him we had our own ‘Prince’ with us, as I pointed to Willy Apiata standing next to the team. Harry thought that was funny and went over to greet Willy and accuse him of “following me around”. It was then time for a quick photo, a few more words and PH was whisked away.
We were soon marched out and presented with our medals, a very emotional moment but I held it together. My family were there to see it all and I was very please they got to see all the hard work pay off. I was holding it together until Willy, Craig and Nu did the Haka for us – then I could feel the tears starting to well – nah, not getting teary here; way too many people. We started to do the Haka back to them, as I followed the lead of Koro and Ihaka, my teammates.
Photos were then taken and it was time for a well-earned lunch. Even treated myself to a piece of cake in celebration. It was soon time to head back to the hotel on the bus, with our Police escort. You could get use to getting around town under Police escort, certainly helped getting from venue to venue.
I am going to have to sign off for now and finish the Swimming off tomorrow, I have lost the ability to form a sentence or spell even basic words (what’s new, say my family, lol). Will finish it off tomorrow morning. A very tired ONWARDS AND UPWARDS.
[Nicki sent everything through but due to being busy I have only just had time to put them together in a complete story – Ray]
Sorry for the break in the story but eyes would just not stay open any longer.
Invictus Games
Photo Credit New Zealand Defence Force

Afternoon events: Arrived at the pool and got ready for my part of the 4x50m freestyle relay. I was a nervous wreak and was busy trying to convince myself it was just Moana Pool, yeah – nah; not going to work this time. Next plan, breath and zone out to everyone.

I was swimming second and Dan our first swimmer was the first to the wall, whoop whoop. I was standing on the block with Coach Ray helping me and dove in over Dan. I took off and swum as fast as I could but was the last to touch the wall and that was in danger of happening at all. The last two breaths were water and I have no idea how I got there without stopping.
Jules took off and swum her heart out as well; sorry did not see the swim as I was too busy trying to breath again. I sat at the side of the pool and cheered Craig on who had the pool to himself – I had swum that slow we were over 50m behind. But hey, I did it and that was the goal. Sorry I could not swim any faster team but we were doing it for the experience and do not know if I want to experience that one again, lol.
Bugger, I did not get my 50m time, ie: a goal I can aim for. What am I talking about, I am not doing that again, but got to bet that time….. hee hee. Blast, it has started already. ONWARDS AND UPWARDS: Bring on 2018.
Coach Ray: WOW, what a night of swimming action it was. I had a pretty quiet day, just working sorting out all the lane information and planning our trip to the pool. I got out in the morning for a run, getting back just as it started to rain.
I planned for our swimmers to meet at 4:45pm to catch a 5pm bus that would get us to the pool about 6pm ready for a 7pm start. The coaches of some of the bigger teams wanted their swimmers there earlier than me, but they had more swimmers to sort out and manage and the buses haven’t always been reliable, although other than the first day I personally didn’t strike any problems. The police escorts were amazing at getting us through traffic and getting us to our training and competition venues. They would part the traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Once at the pool the swimmers prepared themselves. First up we had the relays and then it was into the final’s for the various events. We had Jules in the 50m Freestyle ISD and 50m Breast Stroke ISD finals, and Dan was an alternate for two events. My first port of call was to see if there had been any scratchings in Dan’s events that would or could potentially elevate him into the final. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to occur. Heather was patient with me as as I would check back often, just on the off chance.
There were two rounds of the 4x 50m relay, and our entire team would take part. I had managed to get Steve into an International Invitation team that would compete under the Invictus banner rather than one country. Amy the Australia coach contributed two swimmers, which would allow one of her swimmers, Sarah to have a higher intensity portion of her warm up in race like conditions. And completing the team was a Canadian swimmer. Steve was going second and we got him out of his wheel chair and shuffled him to the edge of the pool. Unlike the day before he didn’t start using the blocks and swam well. The other swimmers did a great job, and the team even managed to sneak in and pip the Aussie team at the post. After getting Steve out of the pool and back into his wheel chair, I had to race back down the other end of the pool and assist Nicki in the second heat as she has balance issues and needed to have her hand on my shoulder to be stable on the blocks.
Dan got the Kiwi’s off to a great start, Nicki did a great job watching him come down the pool and timed her dive perfectly. She had been very anxious about this swim all week and after her success in the archery earlier in the day had settled a little, but completing a non-stop 50m was very challenging for her and she had to overcome a lot of demon’s just to be there at the pool in the competition. Although not fast she completed her length with determination and Jules dove straight in and got into her length, giving it everything she had. Craig anchored  the team with a surging swim. Although impossible for him to catch up he powered through the water. I wish I had put a stop watch on his swim, as with the crowd behind him he blasted his way to the other end. What a way to open the swimming finals, as the crowd was going wild.
Three events later Jules had her 50m Freestyle final, competing against Sarah S. from Steve’s Invictus relay team. Jules was the 8th qualifier for this event and realistically wouldn’t push the top girls. I had had a chat earlier with Sarah S. as she had qualified third only a fraction of a second behind another Aussie. I briefly mentioned she would need to go hard from the start and really reach for the wall at the end. I hope I wasn’t contradicting what the Aussie coach Amy was advising her swimmers. The Invictus games is all about personal achievement and the journey, I consider that I was helping a fellow service person, rather than help an Aussie beat a Kiwi. As I walked the side of the pool as Jules raced to the far end, I would glance forward and monitor the three Aussie girls out front. Another Sarah, Sarah W (also from Aussie) had the race sown up (like all the swimming finals she was in), and Melissa (who had qualified second fastest and who I had met at the rowing a few nights earlier). Sarah S was slightly ahead of Melissa. All the girls in the ISD finals had formed a great bond the previous night. You can see in the pictures in the article about the Swimming Qualification the Spirit of Invictus as they all huddled together after their heats and shared a moment and then their brimming smiles. I was humbled to be around, to support Jules but found myself supporting all of them. They were all inspirational and their energy was contagious.
Jules had a bit of a break before her next swim, which enabled me to sneak away for a bit of a bite to eat. After yesterday she had built up her confidence and didn’t require me at the blocks with her, so I just hung out in the marshalling area to support the girls. Then the final prior I would move pool side to cheer them on as they got lead out. I would then walk down the side of the pool in support of Jules and great her and the other girls at the end.
This was a very long day and after Jules had finished most of the Kiwi supporters caught the buses back to the hotel. I stayed behind a bit longer and hung with the Aussie team and supported our ANZAC brethren.
After the back stroke finals were all done, they removed the back stroke flags and laid them at the end of the pool. As they were emblazoned with ‘Invictus 2017‘ and therefore wont be utilised at future events. After confirming this with Eric the Sports Coordinator for the swimming, I then suggested if I had some scissors that he wouldn’t mind if I souvenired six of them, one for each member of the Kiwi Swim team. I had him trapped, but he agreed if I did it on the down low. After getting a pair of scissors from the lifeguards first aid kit, I waited until the next race started and the TV camera’s panned away from the start area and everyone’s eyes were diverted down the pool following the swimmers in the race and I zipped out cutting off six and then sneaking back to the life guard area to cut them up individually. The lane offical’s asked what I was doing and I simply responded with “Shhhh….don’t tell Eric’.
Realising I had three yellow and three black, I though it might be good if I gift the yellow ones to the Aussie girls and get some more black ones so all the Kiwi swimmers got black flags. Once the next race to started I returned to the scene of my crime and acquired a few more. This time on returning to the lifeguard office to cut them up, Eric’s adult daughter Heather (who I had been pestering earlier checking the scratchings to see if Dan had made it into a final) wanted one of my ill gotten souvenirs and then a few of the volunteers and lifeguards also wanted one. Another trip out after the next race start, a few more ill gotten gains.  By now the lane offical’s were commenting, that there will be known left for them, so I cut off a few more and separated them out, returning to put them on their seats whilst they scrutinised the next start. Finally I returned the scissors to the life guards and returned to the grandstand but discreetly slipped flags to the USA coach and a Team GB member that I had had some involvement with during the games. I then slipped on to the Aussie coach and she asked how many I had and did I have enough for all her swimmers……next mission, return to the scene of my crime and get a few more. Once that was done I discreetly handed them out to all the Aussie swimmers, I now know what a drug dealer feels like. Even the Police officer guarding the Official’s entrance into the pool received some of the stolen property.
After the end of a very long day and night, I returned to the hotel and had a beer with the US and Aussie swim coaches and a few of the Aussie team, before calling it a night.

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