(ABAM Member/Coach and 2018 Team Canada Invictus Games Archery Coach David Dunwoody shown back row second from the left with team athletes)
Archery Team Canada Invictus Games Syndey 2018
By David Dunwoody
7 August 2018
On Wednesday, 25 July 2018, the members of Team Canada Invictus Games Sydney 2018 were revealed to the nation. 40 athletes were selected from over 700 applicants and I have the privilege of coaching the 13 members of the archery team. I am very proud to be part of the Invictus team and to help them prepare for the games hosted this year in Sydney, Australia, 20 to 27 October 2018. The official motto is “Game On Down Under.”
While many have heard of the Invictus Games not everyone knows what they are truly about. The Invictus Games is the idea of Prince Harry, also known as His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex. Prince Harry served in Afghanistan and saw firsthand the physical and mental impact that combat had on troops. Inspired by the Wounded Warrior games in the United States, he wanted to create a similar event that could embrace the healing power of sports. In 2014, he established the first Invictus Games in London, UK. In 2016, the games were hosted in Orlando, Florida and, as many of you know, Canada had the honour of hosting the games in 2017. This year, Sydney will host over 500 athletes from 18 nations to compete in 11 adaptive sports.
While the Invictus Games are about so much, they are not about winning medals. This may be one of the biggest misconceptions. Yes, there are gold, silver, and bronze medals. And yes, the athletes who win them are very proud of their accomplishment, and rightfully so. But what these games are about is captured in the very name. Invictus is Latin for “unconquered.” The athletes who compete are dealing with physical and mental injuries that have tried to tell them “no, you cannot.” Now they have the chance to show the world and, more importantly, themselves that they will not be conquered by them.
My involvement with the games began last year when I approached the Invictus Team Manager about volunteering my time to coach the archery team. My coaching has involved me working with the athletes in two training camps, the first in Esquimalt, BC (Special thanks to Al Wills, Helena Myllynieme, and the Vic Bowman Archery Club for their help) in April and the second in Halifax, NS in July. As well, I work with the team online to continue training and answer any questions they may have. It is a challenge because there is a large variety of skill levels, from people who have been shooting for years to those who picked up a bow for the first time in April.
In the games, there are three categories: Open Compound, Open Recurve, and Novice Recurve. Novice Recurve is for archers who started shooting on or after 1 October 2017. They shoot outdoors at 18 metres. The Open divisions shoot 40 cm targets and the Novice shoot 60 cm targets. The first day of competition is a 600 tournament. The next day is match play elimination rounds based on the ranking in the tournament. Not everyone will go on to the match play.
During each camp, I had four days with two hours each to coach. With such varying degrees of skills and ability, it is an exciting challenge. Beyond the experience is the unique challenge each athlete brings with their own physical and mental injuries. There are few athletes with physical injuries on the archery team itself. One archer was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after joining the Canadian Armed Forces and lost his sight. Despite this, he refused to accept defeat and signed up for archery among other sports. Thanks to the advice from Diane Minion who coaches a weekly blind archery class, this was an easy problem to solve. Many of the other archers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental injuries. For me, it has been an incredibly humbling experience. I’ve heard from people describing panic attacks simply getting on the plane to come to training camp. I’ve had athletes who found the pace overwhelming stressful and frustrated and have needed to stop, step back and take time to recompose. For one, simple advice frustrated them too much to be able to continue. Despite it all, they returned, kept coming back, and refused to be conquered.
For many, standing on the shooting line among 50 competitors and crowds of thousands and getting through the day’s event is their victory. But this does not end at the Invictus Games. We hear the phrase “the healing power of sport” and here, it is real. The Invictus Games are an opportunity for the athletes to embrace a new sport and continue it after. When the games finish at the end of October, I will be talking with these athletes and encouraging them to keep shooting, join the Archery Canada Indoor Mail Match, and stay connected. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting former competitors from the Games at tournaments such as the Vegas Shoot and I look forward to shooting with this year’s athletes in the future.
This is has been an incredible honour for me. As an archer, this has been a chance to share my passion with these individuals. I have so greatly enjoyed the comradery and community of archery. As well, I find archery to be such a Zen sport. No matter how my day is going, shooting on the line gives me a chance to focus, calm my mind, and direct my thoughts at a small yellow circle. But for me, the greatest honour is to be there for my fellow servicewomen and service men. As a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces in the Royal Canadian Air Force, this is the chance to be able to give back to my brothers and sisters in arms who have sacrificed so much in the name of duty, service, and Canada. I have met athletes who have lost limbs from bombs in Afghanistan and seen first-hand horrific experiences that no one should see. For others, the injuries suffered were not overseas but here in Canada. Through it all, they have never regretted putting on the uniform. What I see at the training is a bond that is so powerful between these athletes. I have served three tours in my career, twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait. It does not matter if they are still serving or are now veterans, discharged with honours, we are one.
The Invictus Games takes inspiration from many sources, one of which is the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. It is the last two lines that capture the true spirit of the games:
I am the master of fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Invictus Games 2018: https://www.invictusgames2018.org/
Team Canada: https://www.invictusgames2018.org/latest/2111/
Invictus, A Poem by William Ernest Henley: https://vimeo.com/279467705