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Undefeated: The Story of the Invictus Games

Source: Samir Hussein/ Getty Images

Throughout the annals of history, the unifying force of sports and competition has brought people together worldwide. From the inaugural games in Olympia in 776 BC to the contemporary iteration of the Olympics, humanity pauses every few years to witness the premier athletes from each nation engaging in spirited competition. Over time, new competitions have emerged, including the Paralympic Games and the Special Olympics, spotlighting the prowess of paraplegic athletes and those with special needs, respectively.

In recent years, a distinctive competition has taken center stage with a unique objective – games designed for wounded, ill, and injured service members, as well as veterans, to contribute to their mental and physical recovery. The Invictus Games stand as a noteworthy example of such an endeavor.

Inspired by the US Warrior Games, the Invictus Games have evolved into a global competition where military veterans and active-duty soldiers from all corners of the world engage in both cooperative and competitive events. Celebrating its tenth year of existence in 2024, this multi-sport event embodies the indomitable spirit of all participants, aiming to facilitate the recovery of those who have served. The focus of the Invictus Games Foundation lies in harnessing the power of sport not only to assist the athletes but also to cultivate a profound understanding and respect for wounded and injured veterans.

This is the story of the Invictus Games and the undefeatable spirit of those for whom it was created.

Inspiration For The Games

Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, served in the British Army for ten years as a part of the Army Air Corps.  As a lieutenant, he was originally scheduled to serve in Iraq, but his orders were changed due to concern about the prince becoming a “high-value target” while overseas. After rising to the rank of captain, Prince Harry was trained and certified as a co-pilot and gunner in Apache helicopters and deployed to Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan in 2012. During his time there, according to his memoir, he flew six combat missions and faced the same risks all other soldiers faced. After a twenty-week deployment in theater, the British royal was scheduled to return home.

During his return from the deployment to Afghanistan, Prince Harry stood alongside three wounded British service members as the coffin of a Danish soldier was loaded onto their aircraft. As one can imagine, this had a huge impact on the British prince – an impact that was magnified after visiting the US Warrior Games in Colorado in 2013 where he witnessed a British team competing in the American event for wounded veterans. Both instances inspired Prince Harry to bring this type of competition home to the United Kingdom and, in 2014, the Invictus Games were launched in partnership with the Ministry of Defense.

With the help of the London Mayor, at the time, Boris Johnson, and the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Invictus Games were designed through nearly a year of planning and fundraising. The original funding for the games of £500,000 came in part from Prince Harry’s own Endeavor Fund (from the Royal Foundation for Veteran’s Recovery) and an equal pledge from the Treasury and Chancellor George Osborne. Sponsors also joined in the fundraising with Jaguar Land Rover as the original sponsor and Boeing joining later in 2018.


Prince Harry’s military service and experiences in the Afghanistan theater directly shaped the purpose of the Invictus Games when he said the Games were meant to “inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and demonstrate life beyond disability” as well as to shine a light on and to never forget the troops injured while serving in the war in Afghanistan. The motto of the event is “I AM.” The word ‘Invictus’ itself means “unconquered” or “undefeated” which showcases the warrior spirit of those injured individuals who compete in the Games – “I AM undefeated.”

The Invictus Games Foundation’s platform of sport as a means of full-body (mental, physical, social) recovery is rooted in the idea that physical activity spurs not only to rebuild strength but to foster confidence and endurance as well. In addition to physical sports, esports are now a part of the Games as well as what are known as “adventure challenges” like hiking. No matter which event an athlete is participating in, the entire event is focused on the idea of providing support and camaraderie for those who have endured a similar trauma during their service. The power of sport creates a sense of purpose, being, and accomplishment for global veterans.

Apart from the sporting events, the foundation also offers social assistance to the veterans involved. By establishing ‘We Are Invictus,’ a complimentary platform for members of the international armed forces, the foundation facilitates connections among participants for peer-to-peer support, employment opportunities, volunteering, sports activities, and the maintenance of social connections beyond the conclusion of the Games.

Evolution and Past Games

The Invictus Games have continued to grow and change since their original inception in 2013. Each event is larger than the last, each one reaching further to international military veterans around the world as the foundation seeks to support those wounded during their service.

2014 Invictus Games

The first Invictus Games were held in September 2014 in London. Approximately 300 competitors from 14 countries participated, all of whom were countries that fought alongside British forces in their recent military campaigns. Many of the events were held in the 2012 Olympic venues, including the Copper Box and Lee Valley Athletics Center. Of the fourteen countries invited, eight were from Europe, two from North America, two from Asia, and two from Oceania. Each country that was invited participated, apart from Iraq. The full list of the original invitees included: The United Kingdom, the United States, Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Netherlands, and New Zealand.

The closing ceremony included live musical performances from the Foo Fighters, James Blunt, and Ellie Goulding.

2016 Invictus Games

Held in Orlando, Florida, the second-ever Invictus Games were opened on May 8th, 2016, by Prince Harry and Former First Lady Michelle Obama and then Second Lady Jill Biden. Inspired by the success of the 2014 Games, US Military Adaptive Sports Inc. was created in the United States to promote the mental and physical fitness of service members and it continues to do so to this day as one of the many wonderful byproducts of the original focus of the Invictus Games Foundation.

In 2016, it is worth noting that all fourteen original participants were invited back with one new invitation being extended to Jordan. The event was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex – a 220-acre multi-sport facility located at Disney World that opened in 1997. The opening ceremony was narrated by none other than Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

2017 Invictus Games

The 2017 Games were hosted by Toronto during Canada’s sesquicentennial. Toronto planned to expand the event to include more events, nations, and athletes than ever before. Seventeen nations were invited to the 2017 Invictus Games with Romania and Ukraine as first-time participants.

In 2017, twelve events were held that included: wheelchair tennis, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, golf, a driving challenge (hosted by Jaguar Land Rover), cycling, archery, and swimming.

Interestingly, the torch relay for the 2017 event took over a month to complete. It visited all thirty-two Canadian Forces bases in the country and included over 1,000 torchbearers. The route was ultimately measured as being 7,000 kilometers (4,349 miles) long.

2018 Invictus Games

Sydney, Australia was the next city to host the Games after it announced its bid in 2016. After winning the hosting honor, a commemorative $1 coin that featured braille text was released by the Royal Australian Mint in the run-up to the event.

All seventeen countries from the 2017 Games were invited back with the addition of Poland for the 2018 Invictus Games. Held in the 2000 Summer Olympic venue, the 2018 games spanned ten different venues including the Sydney Opera House which held the opening ceremony.  The 2018 Games included thirteen events, eleven for medals, and was the very first Invictus event held in the southern hemisphere.

Team Canada sported the oldest competitor at the games, Cavell Simmonds. At age sixty-seven, the retired military nurse was not only competing, but the 2018 Games were also her debut. She went on to participate in wheelchair rugby, archery, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, and golf. Simmonds won in the Mixed Male and Female golf tournament, took bronze in novice recurve archery, and placed fifth in powerlifting.  

2020 (2022) Invictus Games

2020, was the year the world stood still due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As would be expected, the 2020 Invictus Games were postponed to 2021 but ultimately took place in 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.

In the spring of 2021, Netflix announced the creation of Heart of Invictus, a documentary series that would showcase the athletes of the 2022 Games. Prince Harry both produced and appeared in the series. Funds from the documentary went to support the Invictus Games Foundation and their work.

All eighteen countries of the 2018 event participated again in 2022. New invitees included Belgium and South Korea. Because of COVID-19, Jordan, Afghanistan, and New Zealand were unable to attend. It is also worth noting that a team called “Unconquered” also competed and was composed of athletes from multiple nations.

2023 Invictus Games

21 nations took part in the 2023 Invictus Games with Israel, Colombia, and Nigeria making their debuts. Nigeria was the first African nation to join the Invictus Games. Iraq, while previously participating, did not compete in 2023.

Dusseldorf, Germany hosted the sixth installment of the Games which included ten adaptive sports that, for the first time, included table tennis as a medal event. Ukraine stood atop the medal count with an astonishing thirty-four medals total including twelve gold medals. Belgium was in second place with eleven total medals and the United States finished in third with four medals.

Patron Prince

Despite his departure from the Royal Family, and the loss of his titles and privileges, Prince Harry continues his work as a governing member and patron of the Invictus Games Foundation to this day. His Games documentary, Heart of Invictus, was released in August 2023 on Netflix. In the series, Prince Harry revealed that he also struggled when he returned from Afghanistan and why this foundation is something he wants to be a part of his legacy.

In addition to shaping the direction of the Games, Prince Harry works to promote the event on the world stage. In 2022, Prince Harry announced that the Invictus Games would be entering into a partnership with BetterUp, a mental health coaching business that will help to facilitate support for veterans around the world. One must ask, what is next for the Invictus Games and their patron?

Looking To The Future

With the close of the 2023 games in September, the world looks ahead to the 2025 Invictus Games that will be held in Vancouver and Whistler, Canada. Currently, it is slated to be the first to host winter events including alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, skeleton, and wheelchair curling. Over 500 competitors are due to participate in the Games from over 20 countries.

New supporters continue to join the cause each year. In addition to major corporate partnerships such as Boeing, Microsoft, BetterUp, and the Fisher House Foundation, several individual supporters of note have expressed their support for the Invictus Games. Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Rod Stewart, Bear Grylls, and James Blunt are just a few of the high-profile celebrities who have pledged their backing of the event.

What began as an endeavor in the United Kingdom has become a worldwide phenomenon that has brought awareness to the struggles of those injured in the service of their country. The legacy of the Invictus Games is one of not only friendly competition and athletic prowess but also a journey of reclaiming one’s identity after returning home from the battlefield. This shared experience is one that each athlete can find camaraderie in and support for today thanks to the Invictus Games Foundation. 

Unconquered, undefeated, undeterred – the Invictus Games will continue to bring hope, help, and healing to the brave men and women who have served their countries around the world.


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