The athletes competing in the Invictus Games are proving that they are stronger than their wounds. Their strength of spirit, forged on the battle field, is the source of their motivation.
“Our soldiers aren’t just soldiers. They’re also our athletes, and they’re the strongest in the world. They should have competitive morale. We are trying to build them up with that morale,” says Yevhen Mazur, Head Trainer for the Invictus Games Ukrainian team.
One man who always keeps his spirits high is Vadym Svyrydenko. He served his country in the Battle of Debaltseve in 2015, where his vehicle was bombed. He miraculously survived the explosion and spent four days in below-freezing temperatures, only to be held prisoner by Russian-led forces:
“When I finally got back to our side, my limbs were frost-bitten. The surgeon’s verdict was the amputation of my hands and my feet.”
Svyrydenko has not let his injuries destroy his strength or belief in himself. He began using prosthetic hands and feet, and after just seven months he ran a 5km. Today, he’s run 18th laps around the stadium in preparation for the games. Vadym doesn’t allow for any excuses or indulgences. He insists that he and his brothers-in-arms who will be competing alongside him are no different than anyone else:
“This is rehab through sport. We are not a paralytic team. We are simply servicemen who have fought, who were injured, and who have healed and have gone through rehab. We just want to train. We are searching for ourselves in new ways, to improve ourselves.”
Olеksandr also came under fire in the Battle of Debaltsevo. Against the advice of his doctors, Olеksandr began training with passion. He is preparing to show off his achievements at the international competition this week:
“Two pieces shrapnel flew by. One hit me near my neck, and the other hit my head. They put 18 stitches in my neck, and 8 in my head. The doctors say that I should be thankful to my guardian angel that I’m alive.”
Pavlo Stryuk received a spinal fracture during the war. He could not get out of bed for two months. During this time, he dreamed of returning to the front as soon as possible and to start running again. He did both:
“Even though I’m injured, I want to at least try to reach more results that I had before my injury. I has already achieved running at a professional level at 15 years old.”
Oleh Zymnykov also went through war. He received a concussion in the 2014 battle of Ilovaisk, where he came under mortar fire. The experience was harrowing, but Oleh learned to live again without the sounds of explosions, gun-fire, and everyday loss of life:
“None of us has to prove anything. We have already shown that we were there, and that we returned alive.”