Canadian athlete reflects on Invictus Games 2017

Man holding his side while riding a bicycle.
Geoff De Melo of Team Canada cycles after his crash at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

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By Geoff De Melo

One of 90 Team Canada – Invictus Games 2017 athletes, Geoff De Melo showed his Invictus spirit on the first day of the cycling competition where he completed his race despite crashing, seriously injuring his left shoulder and knee. His determination was honoured by Prince Harry, founder of the Invictus Games, when he awarded Geoff and teammate Melissa Smith with the Invictus medallion during the closing ceremonies.

Geoff describes for us his participation in the Invictus Games 2017.

I have been lying awake since 12:47 a.m., unable to sleep. I have tension in my stomach and I can feel the anxiety growing like a weight crushing my chest. I look over at my wife and try breathing exercises to ground me, but my mind wanders.

I am visualizing myself in the pool racing against other nations. Next I am at Toronto, Ontario’s High Park descending a hill on one of the technical parts of the criterium course.

It is the eve of my departure for Invictus Games 2017 where I will represent Canada. Although my journey to Toronto starts in a few hours, my journey to the Invictus Games started a year ago when I was selected to represent Canada.

I joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2007 at the age of 25—fit, healthy, and keen to serve my country. Through my effort, determination, and perseverance, I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Bravo Company. While deployed in 2010, we lost two soldiers: Sergeant Martin Goudreault and Sapper Brian Collier. Due to the nature of my position as the platoon signaller, I also suffered acute hearing loss and developed tinnitus.

I struggled to reintegrate back into society when I returned to Canada. I had nightmares and questioned the effectiveness and validity of our mission. Suddenly, my every experience was distorted by crippling anxiety and severe depression.

In 2014, I suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a course with the military. I could no longer hide or pretend that I was well. I lost all my coping abilities and needed help. I was diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) related to my tour in Afghanistan and with severe clinical depression. Eventually, I turned to Soldier On for help.

With the alarm about to go off at 4:30 a.m., I begin to think about how far I have come since returning home in 2010.

Over the next few days, my team mates and I will compete against other men and women, soldiers and veterans, who live with injuries and conditions. Being part of the Canadian team has given us a new mission and a reason to continue. When we step onto the court, the track, or the field, we are not that person with the prosthetic; when we jump into the pool or cycle around High Park we are not the woman with the exoskeleton; and, when we crash our rugby wheelchair we are not the man with PTSI. We are simply athletes and competitors.

We have learned to adapt and overcome with Soldier On, the Canadian Armed Forces’ program behind Team Canada. The program supports serving military members and Veterans to prevail over physical or mental health illnesses or injuries through physical activity and sport.

We live with these conditions, but we are not defined by them. Our limitations often do not limit us. Our journey to the Invictus Games may have started a year ago, but it will continue long after the closing ceremonies finish.

We are ill and injured soldiers and Veterans and we are Invictus.

Applications for Team Canada – Invictus Games 2018 are now being accepted by Soldier On.

 

Image gallery

  • Geoff De Melo receives his medallion from Prince Harry.

 

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