Broken and Still Going

Reprinted from PN December 2017

Paralyzed Veterans of America members, along with other military veterans, learned just how invigorating and memorable the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto could be.

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There was Jesse Graham, lying on the deck of the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre after his first 2017 Invictus Games swimming event, the men’s ISA 50-meter freestyle. A trainer and coach hovered over him; they checked on the U.S. Air Force veteran and Team USA member every few seconds. Just gassed — that was all. 

A Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Mid-Atlantic Chapter member, Graham had just completed a struggle in the 50 free, with the crowd clapping and pushing him the last 15 meters as he earned a sixth-place finish. Having a spinal-cord injury (SCI), he’s not the strongest in that event. Then came another tough road — getting out of the water. He looked up at the scoreboard, bobbed himself underwater and back up, then had to duck under five lanes to get to the right side of the pool to the deck, where he was lifted out just before the men’s ISB 50 free final. That’s when his body finally let go of all that adrenaline and exhaustion, as his energy levels recouped. He still had three more races to go. But to him, putting his body through all this is worth it — especially at the Invictus Games. 

“It’s the idea of showing the world that, you know, people that are ‘cripple’ can still do everything that we wanted to do, that we’re still active, we’re still going. I see it all the time in stores. People look at me with the sense of ‘I feel sorry for you,’ and it’s like if you knew what I did, you know, you’d realize I probably do more than you. Life is different, but I’m still the same person. I’m still going to keep pushing,” Graham says. “So, I mean, the Games are more than just me showing it, but it’s showing that this large group of people showing the world that we’re still going — broken and still going.”

That spirit is what Prince Harry wanted when he started the Invictus Games in 2014 as an international sporting event for wounded, ill and injured servicemen and servicewomen, both active duty and veterans, to help showcase their drive, perseverance and power of sport on their journey to recovery.  More than 550 athletes from 17 countries competed in this year’s Invictus Games in Toronto, participating in 12 sports: archery, track and field, cycling, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, indoor rowing, a Jaguar Land Rover Driving Challenge, wheelchair tennis, swimming, powerlifting, sitting volleyball and the newest addition, golf. Graham earned bronze in the men’s ISA 50-meter backstroke (1 minute, 34.79 seconds) and as a member of Team USA’s wheelchair rugby team. He also earned two fourth-place finishes in track and a handful of fifth and sixth-place finishes. Rugby remains his favorite because of the bonds, especially for those with SCI. 

“It became a passion when I started because outside of the Invictus Games world, it’s a support group as a quad,” Graham says. “You meet other quads, and you learn a lot more than just rugby from them. You learn life tips. It gives you a network of people that understand you.”


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Broken and Still Going


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