Invictus athletes find redemption in games


Major (ret’d) Nick Holyome trains on a stationary bike during an Invictus Games training camp at the Naden Athletic Centre Feb. 7. Holyome will compete in cycling, rowing and wheelchair rugby at the 2023 Invictus Games in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Sept. 9–16. Photo: Peter Mallett/Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer — The healing power of sport inspired two local military athletes to compete in the Invictus Games for a second time.

Sergeant (ret’d) Patrick Gordon and Major (ret’d) Nick Holyome planned to participate in the 2020 Invictus Games in The Hague, Netherlands, but circumstances beyond their control scuttled their plans. The 2020 Games were postponed due to precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and weren’t staged until 2022.

Now, Gordon and Holyome say they are enthusiastic about going again as part of Canada’s team in Düsseldorf, Germany. To prepare for the competition, both men participated in Team Canada’s week-long Invictus Training Camp in Victoria, Feb. 6–10.

Both Gordon and Holyome sustained long-term injuries during their military service in Afghanistan.

Holyome says sports can be a powerful prescription for military members experiencing mental health concerns.

“The Invictus Games are a visceral example of why having a little bit of competition in a team environment can really have a positive impact on people,” he said.

The healing power of sport helped him improve his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) trigger symptoms, anxiety, and depression.

Holyome began his military service in 1992 and retired as a Reservist in 2019. His injuries occurred during four tours of Afghanistan while working as an Intelligence Officer with the Canadian Army. In 2015, he was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

“I repressed thoughts and memories [about Afghanistan], tried to tuck them away in a little ball and hoped they wouldn’t come back, but the experiences left a permanent mark,” he said.

He discovered the joy of Nordic skiing during his recovery. Holyome will compete for Team Canada in cycling, rowing, and wheelchair rugby.

Gordon says getting a second chance to compete at Invictus made him truly realize the importance of the Invictus Games mission.

“I want to show people recovery is possible and to inspire them to never stop pushing forward,” he says. “I hope the story behind my recovery is inspirational to others.”

Gordon served 13 years in Canada’s Army and did three tours of Afghanistan. In 2008, he sustained injuries when a roadside Improvised Explosive Device struck his convoy. He was also diagnosed with PTSD.

“I want to inspire one of my military brothers and sisters who are suffering to change their course through the power of sport,” he said. “That would be better than any medal.”

Gordon will compete for Canada in athletics (running), rowing and wheelchair basketball.

While in Victoria, Canada’s Invictus athletes were housed at the Work Point Barracks. They conducted training at the Naden Athletic Centre, Nixon Building, Pacific Institute for Sport Education, Victoria Rowing Club and Gordon Head Recreation Centre.

Most of the athletes on the team are training for two individual sports and one team sport, said Stéphany Lura, Team Canada – Invictus Games spokesperson. The camp was dedicated to individual instruction and practice sessions, and Personnel Support Programs (PSP) staff provided yoga instruction along with mental health and readiness training.

Holyome said he worked with several coaches in each of his three adaptive sports during the week.

“I saw people learn to work together with their new teammates and support each other no matter what their injuries may be,” he said. “The coaches helped us set up some short and long-term training and personal goals, and I think that is key to the Invictus Games experience.”

Canada’s 24-person team will compete in nine adaptive sports at this year’s Games, including archery, track and field, cycling, powerlifting, rowing, swimming, wheelchair basketball and rugby, and sitting volleyball.

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Sergeant (ret’d) Patrick Gordon practices his rowing technique during an Invictus Games training camp at the Naden Athletic Centre on Feb. 7. Gordon will compete in atheletics (running), rowing and wheelchair basketball at the 2023 Invictus Games in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Sept. 9–16. Photo: Peter Mallett/Lookout.

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