The thudding noise of helicopter blades cut through the air, bright-colored lights sliced through smoke and fans cheered to honor the more than 500 military competitors from 15 nations who gathered at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., May 8 to compete in Invictus Games 2016.
SSgt. August O’Neill, representing the Air Force on Team U.S., kicked the events off by accepting the Invictus flag from first lady Michelle Obama and delivering the flag by being hoisted from a helicopter into the opening ceremony.
On July 15, 2011, while deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, O’Neill was shot through both legs while on a mission to rescue a team of Marines under fire and taking casualties.
After 3 1/2 years and 20 surgeries, O’Neill made the decision to have his left leg amputated above the knee. In late 2015, he returned to full duty and began training to return to his pararescue team of brothers.
“If you can see others push through their pain and mobility issues and still get out here to play and come together as a team, it’s very motivational,” he said. “Mentally, it keeps you happy.”
Competitors will participate in 10 different sporting events to include: archery, indoor rowing, cycling, powerlifting, track and field, wheelchair basketball and rugby, swimming, and wheelchair tennis.
Also in attendance for opening ceremonies were dignitaries such as Britain’s Prince Harry and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
“These athletes are an inspiration to people worldwide and the Invictus Games gives them the stage and venue to show their resiliency and overcome adversity,” James said. “It has been an incredible honor to attend the games and meet with the athletes and families.”
The Invictus Games 2016 will continue from May 8-12. Be sure to check out the competition and follow Team U.S. by visiting www.invictusgames.org.