Invictus Games

Invictus Games: One Day To Go, TV Interviews and Media All Around

Jules:   It is late here, but I very much want to write about today’s high points. They were huge.

A dining room full of competitors from 17 nations, is a remarkable sight. We don’t all speak the same language, but we acknowledge that we are Invictus. Nods and smiles, our vision of us that while the particular reason we are here is different, we are the same.

A sight I had been visualising (the pool) I found a little daunting at first.  It seemed very big, but as I got up to swim I realised that “I’ve got this” I can now swim. It is still really hard, but I know that I have trained hard. I found myself grinning and in wonder that if you had told me a year ago that I would be able to swim, let along swimming in an international competition, I would have not believed you. I have leant so much in the last year. So many “firsts” that have built up to being here. A tremendous feeling of success, recovery and rehabilitation.

An interview with the sponsor for “ Jockey”, Chris van Etten, was a highlight and something I will remember for a very long time. You can read profiles on people, but until you meet them, you don’t know that they are accurate. I found this profile about Chris:


Invictus GamesSome people just have a positive energy that radiates from the inside out. Chris van Etten is one of those people. Despite having lost both of his legs during an explosion in Afghanistan that took the life of his comrade and best friend, Chris is not one to be held back by circumstance. When asked how he managed to persevere, Chris said, “You have to keep pushing, you have to keep going against all odds.”

Chris Van Etten,

US Marine Veteran

From the little time I spent with Chris, I can see this is a very accurate picture of the man. They thought I was offering an interview, but in actual fact, I gained much speaking to him and am glad I have had this opportunity.

Another highlight was a Sponsor evening with Sage. We got to speak to many competitors and Sage staff. It was a very positive experience. I am starting to discover that my perspective on life, is again, changing for the better. I see myself differently than I have previously. I know illness and injury don’t define me, but now I actually feel it.

“I’m just Jules”

Nicki:   Thursday night was a sleepless night and a couple of times I went into the bathroom and conversed with my family in New Zealand with massager/FB.  I did not want to wake my roommate who had an interview today.  I managed to doze off about 3.30am-ish and got about 3 and a bit hours sleep. I have survived on less. I had my swim bag all packed and ready to go before I went down for a light breakfast, with lots of coffee.

I started to get a bit nervous, as swimming is my least favourite sport I am doing and the one I find the hardest. I was a pack of nervous butterflies by the time I got on the bus and did a good job at freaking myself out. I knew this would happen and tried to counteract it with some help from the Physical Education School at Otago University, but unfortunately they did not have the time or the appropriate person to help me. Never mind, it was just in the off chance they could help.

I am also missing my dog, who has a fantastic calming effect on me and makes me laugh, no matter what. So, I asked a man getting on the bus, if I could pat his dog and got a very short, sharp no! (Coach Ray has another story about this dog and his owner that is written in his segment further down). Oh ok, sorry – still freaking out here.

Got to the pool and found the change rooms. They were miles away from the pool. Julies and I had to ask directions to get back to the pool.  Well I did and managed to get us a bit lost. We turned right instead of left, went through the door to a stair well, as the door clicked closed behind us, we realised this was not the way. Turned to go back the way we came and yep, we were locked in. We tried the doors at the top of the stairs.  One was locked and the other one lead outside. Spot the two Kiwis walking to the front of the complex in swim suits, laughing hysterically.  We got some funny looks when we wanted to get in again.

One way to disperse nerves, is hysterical laughter. Once we got into the pool, the swim was hard work and the hysterical laughter was soon forgotten as I started to freak myself out again. I had a little melt down, as I am terrified to let the team down and lack of sleep, headaches and freaking out will do that to me. But thanks to the great support from my teammates and Coach Ray I did not give up. It took a while, but I finished the swim. I need to find some confidence pills somewhere.

I Am KiwiRowing this evening was the normal ‘I have to be crazy, to be doing this’, but the endorphins when they kick in are worth it (after the pain goes away, lol).

More training tomorrow. The atmosphere of the Sheraton Hotel is amazing.  There is a DJ playing downstairs all the time.  They are selling Invictus Games merchandise.  The athletes are all catching up with old friends and making new ones and there are people walking around with dogs for you to pat.  What more could you ask for.

Oh yeah, I saw Prince Harry today.  Well I saw his three-car entourage and about 10 Police motorbikes as they pulled into the pool complex, as we pulled out.   I kind of saw him.

Onwards and Upwards, Opening Ceremony tomorrow. Boom, the Kiwis are here.

Coach Ray:   I personally had a really busy day. Starting with a management meeting to discuss the day and check in with the other staff about certain athletes to make sure their welfare is fully managed. These meetings involve team managers, medical staff, coaches and the PR/Media team. I’m honoured to be working alongside such a focused and dedicated team of professionals that are working very hard to ensure the athletes have the best of what they need, when they need it.

Invictus GamesAfter the meeting I met the swimming team and the photographer in the lobby to catch the bus out to the swimming pool. We’ve been training the last few days in the hotel pool which is 25 yards long, but are competing in the 50m pool built for the Pan Am Games in 2015 and it is about an hours drive away.

We had a short walk from the hotel to the bus stop and all the buses were all lined up clearly labeled with the various games venues depending on the sport. There were three buses heading out to the Pan Am Centre at this time and the first bus was already full so we jumped on the second bus and qwikly called it the Kiwi bus as we were the only team on it.

A couple of Great Britain’s supporters were next on and then a large contingent of Dutch athletes. One of these Dutch athletes had a support dog, as it clearly wasn’t a military attack dog.  I went to give it a pat and was very abruptly told off (faux pas #1). Halfway into our journey I wanted to get a photo of all the teams on the bus so stood up in the aisle to get a better viewpoint (as I wasn’t doing one of my selfie style photos).  The bus driver took great offence to me doing so and slammed on his brakes despite being on the motorway and very aggressively got me to sit back down (faux pas #2). I later found out he manhandled people off a bus on a return journey for doing something similar, whoops.

We got to the pool with plenty of time for our scheduled training session. We had been allocated one lane to share with the Romanian and also the Ukrainian swim team. A few French swimmers were present warming up and no one was in the water. After doing a qwik walk through and talk through with the athletes as to how the start procedure will most likely work I sent them to go and get changed figuring we might as well get in early and get the session going. I then met the guy in charge of the swimming. Eric was extremely helpful, offering any assistance that we wanted and just to hit him up. He explained a few technicalities and was happy to allow me to stand next to the starting blocks on race day so Nicki can have support and a shoulder to use for balance if needed. Once she was changed and found that out she was very stoked.

I Am KiwiWe needed to work in with the Romanian swimmer who had by now turned up and when he finished the Ukrainian swimmer joined us in the lane. We were very privileged to have Maria at the pool with us for the session. She managed to take plenty of great photos of the team in action. We put the focus on the starts and getting them all sorted. Eric happened to walk past and when I asked if they could plug in the start hooter, he was more than obliging. This made the Kiwi team look really professional and other teams came over and made use of it too. Once again the Kiwis lead the way.  Eric even got his chief technical offical to do the starts for us. When we needed it and they weren’t around I took control and did my best offical “take your mark” voice.

After a discussion about the relay team we established an order and did a few practice change overs. Things were going well. We then finished with some timed efforts over people’s race distances.

Both Dan and Jules had interviews with Chris van Etten which had been arranged by Jockey. If you don’t know who he is check out this YouTube video here.

While they got changed and waited for the Jockey team to turn up I got in for a swim. I managed to do my warm up, some drills and my first rep and then I got told I needed to get out of the pool. It turns out I wasn’t supposed to be there after a certain time (faux pas #3). This experience was truly humbling, being in the water in the lane beside double amputee’s and they are swimming on par with myself!!!

Our lovely media person (I know she reads these but aren’t sucking up to her as she truly is lovely and is doing an amazing job – if you aren’t following the NZDF Invictus Team on Instagram or Facebook you should do so), Charlene wanted me to get some behind the scene photos on my iPhone of the interviews. After I wandered around I eventually spotted Dan being interviewed on the far side of the pool upstairs, but I couldn’t get there from pool side. I walked back through the maze of corridors and out through the reception. There had been a noticeable step up in the police and security presence around the place since the other teams have arrived. But as I walked out there were heaps of cops milling around and about 5 of them including this one massive cop standing by the door I needed to get through to get to where Dan was being interviewed.

Owning the situation I confidently walked up to the door and went to open it, expecting the cops to tell me I couldn’t go through that door. Well as it turns out I couldn’t open the door. The massive cop says I’ll show you how it’s done and grabs the handle and give it a pull….nothing, so he gives it a bigger pull with a lot of force and still nothing much to the amusement of his work mates. “It worked just a few seconds ago” he says to me.  Just then an Invictus offical turns up and swipes a card, but still the door wouldn’t budge. Eventually after a few more swipes the door opened and I got into where Dan was having his interview.

Part way through his Interview all the TV cameras that were in the media area (except the one focused on Dan) all changed angle and there was plenty of excitement. I turned to see what they were all looking at, to see Prince Harry a few meters away down with the Aussie athletes pool side. Jules had been talking about wanting to meet him. He spent a far bit of time  with the Aussie athletes and even woke one up who was having a bit of a sleep.

After Dan’s Interview it was Jules turn, so after some waving and Facebook message we got her attention from the other side of the pool. Although she didn’t realise she couldn’t get up to us from pool side. I tried to do hand signals, as I felt it would be rude to yell at her directly across Prince Harry. So moving down to the end I caught her attention before she got too far and talked to her from up above describing how to get up to where I was (it was truely a maze to find your way around once you left pool side). As she turned to head back the way she came, Prince Harry finished with the Aussies and walked the width of the pool (all 10 lanes) literally only three metres behind Jules as he made his way to Team GB. She would have died if she knew that.

As I waited for her to turn up, I struck up a conversation with the cops that were there before I was shoulder tapped by a reporter for CP24 (a local 24 hour news channel) and asked if I was a competitor. Thinking I would get out of it by informing her that I was a coach, only excited her more as she told me “we want to talk to a coach“. The expression Yeah, right was lost on her as were a couple of other Kiwi-isms I said.

Anyway I ended up being interviewed live and asked about the Kiwi team and Prince Harry (she literally was drawling about Prince Harry). I pointed out I’d rather meet his girlfriend than him when she admitted that Prince Harry was for the girls to be attracted to and Meghan was for the boys to be attracted to. That was an interesting experience.  By the sounds of it she is a bit of a local celebrity. Although I haven’t seen the interview online yet.

After Jules had finished her interview we went downstairs to grab a bite to eat from the lunch room, but by then it was too late. We grabbed a smoothie from the Juice bar upstairs and made our way out to wait for the bus. The ride home was uneventful.  No more faux pas luckily.

After some qwik admin I looked out my window with the intention of going for a swim to finish off my workout. Seeing the pool filled with people relaxing and the one lane swimming lane being used by some inefficient swimmers I decided to get a qwik run in. Running in a major city can be frustrating due to all the road crossings and Toronto is no different, but once I get to the waters edge the run wasn’t too bad.  I was only going for 30 minutes as I didn’t have much spare time so it was only a short dash.  However it got slowed even more because the police were blocking an intersection for a motorcade to come through (I can’t think of any dignitaries in town currently that would have that sort of police response). This was much to the annoyance of the Blue Jay’s fans trying to get to the game tonight.

After a qwik shower, I went down to the food hall for a qwik bite before I moved next door to conduct a training session for our rowing team. The Canadian team were there at the same time and it turns out their rowing coach used to work for the NZ Defence Force as a physiologist in the Defence Technology Agency. Small world.

Anyway that is a longer wrap up than I intended. Stay tuned for tomorrows edition.

Read more about about Invictus Games through our daily updates at 7pm NZ time.

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