Greater Victoria athlete Robert Sanders speaks during the Invictus Games flag tour, which made a stop at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 in Langford Thursday. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Invictus Games inspiring local athletes on road to recovery

Games will see ill, injured, wounded servicemen and women compete in Toronto

Wednesday was a symbolic day for Robert Sanders.

Not only did it mark the day the Invictus Games flag tour made its first stop at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 in Langford, but it also signalled the start of a new challenge for the 54-year-old, who will be competing with Team Canada in the Games next month.

The Invictus Games, which take place Sept. 23 to 30 in Toronto, brings together more than 550 ill, injured and wounded servicemen and women from 17 allied nations to compete in 12 adaptive sports.

But for Sanders, competing in a major sporting event was not on his radar until last year.

A retired military veteran, the Victoria resident had been struggling with a brain injury and was coping with survivor’s guilt, depression, anxiety disorder, hyper-vigilance, unexplained mood swings, night terrors and flash backs, before he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2013.

“I went from a career military member to losing my career because of a medical injury and that really demoralized me for many years,” Sanders said.

At one point things became so unbearable that Sanders planned on taking his life, and almost succeeded on one occasion until his family intervened and he was hospitalized. Over the next three years, Sanders was prescribed a cocktail of pills to help control his symptoms, and as a result, showed little emotion or interest in daily life. He always felt something was missing.

After being released from the hospital and on the road to recovery, Sanders joined a PTSD support group in Victoria where he learned about the Games and decided to apply to compete in archery and seated volleyball (where participants sit on the ground and move along the floor to hit the ball) – both of which were new sports to him. In November, he was accepted to compete with Team Canada.

Since then, he’s attended training camps and trains six days a week at the Victoria Bowmen Archery Club’s range on Burnside Road and four days at the Saanich Commonwealth Place.

While Sanders admits it’s been a challenging several months, the Games have given a boost to his self confidence and self-esteem.

“I feel peaceful being out at the archery range. I can just focus on the sport, I don’t have to focus on my handicaps or disabilities, I can just go up and shoot. It’s a good feeling,” he said. “It’s not about the Games themselves, it’s about the journey to get there and what we do after.”

Norman Scott, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91, said the Games allow wounded warriors to get back on their feet again.

“The importance of the games are supporting the wounded warriors of yesterday and/or wounded warriors of today so they’re able to fight their demons and they’re able to give back to the community in the way of sports,” he said. “It encourages them to get out and adapt to the community and into the world of hope.”

For more information on the Games visit invictusgames2017.com.

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

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