The 2023 Invictus Games were held in Düsseldorf, Germany, which happens to be less than an hour from where we live. Living that close, we had to check them out, especially when we heard there was a chance Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be there!
If you’re not sure what the heck I’m talking about, you’re not alone.
Honestly, I didn’t know about the Invictus Games before I read Prince Harry’s book (although I recommend the audio version) and before I started seeing signs for the games pop up around our base in the Netherlands.
The best way to describe the Invictus Games is by comparing it to the Paralympics but for the military.
I truly wish more people knew about this; it’s incredible.
…Not to mention, but (spoiler alert!) we totally got up close and personal with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle! Keep reading to hear how it happened, and to see pictures I took of them!
I need to preface this whole post by saying that. I took a lot more videos than photos during this whole event. You can see all the videos in this Instagram highlight video.
About the Invictus Games
The Invictus Games was created in 2014 by Prince Harry (yes, that Prince Harry). After serving in the Royal Air Force he wanted a way to give back to the military community. Its creation is deeper and more meaningful than that, but that’s the gist of it.
“Invictus” means “undefeated.” The Invictus Games are for any active duty or veteran military member who has been wounded, injured, or sick. It’s a place for
“The term embodies the fighting spirit of the participating men and women, as well as their motivation to move on with their lives, to gain a new place in life, and to not let themselves be defined by the trauma they have suffered,” according to the Invictus Games website.
Through sports and competition, servicemen and women can continue to recover and find rehabilitation all while being part of a team again.
As a military family, I felt a profound connection to these games.
A Worldwide Event
Here’s what shocked me: More than 500 athletes from 21 countries around the world participated in the 2023 Düsseldorf Invictus Games.
Seeing so many people wearing their nation’s flags was incredibly inspiring. Not only that, but seeing their family, friends, and support teams in the stands also took my breath away.
I realize this is only the 6th event they’ve had, but I’m really excited to see this grow in the years to come.
The Opening Ceremony
We were lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games. Granted, our seats were in the nosebleed section (literally the second to last row on the tippy-tippy top), but I felt humbled to be there.
Watching all of the 21 nations cross the stage—in wheelchairs, with service dogs, missing arms or legs—was humbling.
There were a few speakers during the event including a recorded message from Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor of Germany, and Ziad Ojakli, the executive vice president of Government Operations of Boeing.
But the main event, and the reason I was there as giddy as a teenager, was to see Prince Harry.
Even though we were sky-high in the stands, it was still surreal knowing I was in the same room as him. I soaked in every bit of his speech and left on a high.
Closing out the ceremony was a very short performance by Macklemore. Truthfully, I had no idea what songs he sang before we saw him. Thankfully, he performed three songs and I happened to recognize all of them.
Seeing the Opening Ceremony was cool, but the sporting events are where the heart of the Invictus Games is at.
My daughter had a field trip to the games with her (almost) entire international school (4th grade through 12 grade were invited to attend), which coincided with a “NATO Day” at the games. We’re stationed at a NATO base in Germany and the other base near us in the Netherlands coordinated a family day to the games so people could experience the events.
I took our middle kid out of school to go with me; I thought it was important for her to see what the Invictus Games is all about.
While I would have loved to see an event like swimming, they were participating in sitting volleyball and table tennis on the day we were there.
We spent most of our time watching sitting volleyball matches. It was mesmerizing watching the teams play in a non-traditional way.
Sitting volleyball is played by athletes with and without impairments, and it opened the door to a great discussion with my 8-year-old daughter.
We saw players without one or both legs and some who had prosthetics, too.
We discussed differences in people, respecting people, and how limitations aren’t actually limitations…you sometimes have to figure out how to do things differently.
Seeing Prince Harry and Meghan
And, OH MY GOSH, WE SAW PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN! Sorry (not really sorry) for shouting, but this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that we totally had an up-close-and-personal(ish) account with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex!
Long story short: there was a photo opportunity happening for the NATO Family Day, and it was rumored that the Royal Family would be there. Well, you didn’t have to tell me twice: sign me up.
We walked over to the field where the photo was taking place and got in formation with hundreds of other NATO members/families for a photo. Since I’m short and Maddie’s short, we were near the side and the front, which was key for the next part.
They said that the Duke (THE DUKE!) was running a little behind. Then, before we knew it, their entourage started walking towards us.
How I managed to record them walking without it shaking tremendously is beyond me, because I was as giddy as a teenager.
Prince Harry looked handsome and charming, but my eyes were on Meghan. She had a commanding strut that exuded confidence. They’re one heck of a power couple.
They appeared to be all business as they walked towards us, and then the second Meghan saw kids in the front she immediately softened up and broke from her all-business demeanor.
It was actually quite obvious* that they felt much more comfortable when all eyes weren’t on them as subjects. They lightened up when speaking to people and seemed more at ease when they weren’t in the spotlight. *Since I’m now clearly qualified to judge these types of things
photo from the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum Facebook Page (you can see Maddie in the front row on the right and me on the very right near the front.)
Heart of Invictus on Netflix
I’d love to encourage everyone to watch The Heart of Invictus, a five-episode Netflix documentary following six people who competed in the 2022 Invictus Games.
I heard about it a day or two before I knew we were going to the Opening Ceremony and I knew I wanted the kids to watch it so they’d understand where we were going.
The morning of the Opening Ceremony we basically binge-watched The Heart of Invictus, and I’m so glad we did.
The kids not only recognized people featured in the documentary but they had a better grasp on why the Invictus Games were so important.
There are some language and very hard topics in the documentary, but despite that, I’d still recommend it for grades three and up. My six-year-old watched a little bit of it, but my 8 and 10-year-olds were the ones asking questions and recognizing what was happening.
My Hope for the Invictus Games
I spoke with so many people who never heard of the Invictus Games, and I think that’s a crying shame. I think this initiative—this foundation—is vital to the rehabilitation of servicemen and women around the world.
Not only that, it helps create awareness for civilians who may not understand the cost that military members and their families pay.
I’m incredibly thankful that my husband has come back from deployments unscathed, and seeing those participating who lost so much but were there overcoming their shortcomings? That was priceless and they all deserve to be recognized.
So thank you, Prince Harry, for creating something so impactful. I can’t wait to see how the Invictus Games evolve over the years.