Created by the Duke of Sussex, aka Prince Harry, The Invictus Games are rolling into Sydney this weekend and have been dominating headlines around the globe - and rightly so.
For the uninitiated, The Invictus Games were founded 4 years ago, by the world's favourite royal following his service in the military, as an international adaptive multi-sport event. The Games are competed by athletes comprised of wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel in a range of sports, including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, and indoor rowing.
“We wanted to go somewhere where they are absolutely sports mad and would really get behind our competitors,” said Harry in an official statement, justifying Sydney as the host of the 2018 Games. “It needed to be a city with a proud military heritage, which would welcome competitors from all over the world with open arms.”
And local military heroes and athletes couldn’t agree more, including Paralympic Gold Medalist, World Paracanoe Champion, and Westpac Ambassador for the Invictus Games Sydney 2018, Curtis McGrath.
McGrath, now a canoe champion, has his life changed forever in 2012 after stepping on an improved explosive device during a tour of Taliban-rife areas in Afghanistan, tragically losing both of his legs. Since that date, Curtis has found mental and physical solace in sport, a core pillar behind the culture of the Invictus Games. In the lead up to competition, McGrath took time out to talk to Men's Health on the Games, what they mean to him, and what makes them one of a one of a kind sporting experience, for athletes and spectators alike.
MH: Before 2012, what did your sporting life look like? Did you ever have any ambition to be a professional sportsman?
CM: I didn’t have very big ambitions (to be a sportsman). I was an active person but never a high performance athlete. I was always fit and healthy, one of the fitter people in my unit. But [his injury] was an opportunity to change pace.
On your website you say that you knew within 30 minute of loosing your legs that you wanted to pursue a sporting career in para-sports. How was that effective in staying mentally strong?
I was toying with different sports, but not investigating or making connections till later. I lost weight and muscle mass and fitness in hospital so the focus was recovering, and walking first. It wasn’t until after hospital that I thought sport was a real option and thought ‘let’s get serious about this’.
How did you land on canoeing as your sport?
I did white water kayaking at high school at school camps and things like that, and really enjoyed it. When you pick something to do at a high level you want to make sure you enjoy it.
After achieving at such a high level at World Champs and the Paralympics, what sets the Invictus Games apart from other competitions?
I think the Invictus Games are quite different because there’s an aspect of not going there to win, but going there to participate, and using sport as a vehicle for rehab and recovery. To have a goal, and to push yourself to be better. The Invictus Games also includes friends and families, each competitor brings 2 friends and family, and that’s such an important component to rehab.
In your capacity as a Westpact Ambassador for the Invictus Games ambassador, what will the next week look like for you?
I’m involved in a few different things, ambassador stuff, being the head cheerleader. I’ll also be working doing some commentating for the opening and closing ceremonies.
What are the top skills from your time in the armed services that you apply to your career as a professional sportsman?
Strategy and planning, and management of my workload and training load. Also change management which is something that Westpac has got on board with and something I draw on for my success.
You train 12 times a week… is that all on the water canoeing or are you in the gym for those sessions?
Bit of a mix. It’s about 60:40 on water to gym and recovery. With a water session every day, I’ll do 3 or 4 gym sessions and 2 or 3 recovery sessions. It’s all a matter of balance as well, recovery and rehab come into play, identifying you can be weak in an area and not smash it but approach it appropriately.
With such an intense training load, can you eat anything you want?
I do eat anything in sight, but when it comes to the serious end of the season you’re subconsciously choosing the healthy option. But I’m a bit steak and chips fan. I’m all about a balanced diet and everything in moderation, but there’s definitely more of your good foods.
What’s the next goal? Tokyo 2020?
That’s the next big one for me, with the season starting in December for next year. It’s an important year. That’s the goal and it’s really exciting.