Last month, Team Novo Nordisk triathlete and United States Army veteran Sean Walsh represented the US at the 2016 Invictus Games, an international Paralympic-style sports event created by Britain’s Prince Harry, where veterans and armed services personnel who have been wounded, injured, sick or who are living chronic conditions like diabetes, compete in sports such as cycling, swimming, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and indoor rowing.
Below, Sean recaps his experience at the Games.
How did you qualify to compete in the Invictus Games?
The Invictus Games are an international competition for wounded, injured and “ill” service members and veterans from around the world. After I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I ultimately had to leave the military, but I’ve been able to stay connected to it through competitions such as the Invictus Games.
Athletes can qualify for the Invictus Games by being wounded, injured, or ill due to their military service. At the Invictus Games and Warrior Games, athletes are organized into categories based on “impairment”, so that the competitors match as closely as possible (similar to the Paralympics). In both competitions, I’ve competed in the “open” categories.
At this year’s Games, I competed against other athletes with conditions that may have limited their military service but that don’t significantly impact their athletic performance. These athletes might be living with a chronic condition like diabetes, or be recovered from cancer, or even be using the power of sports to help manage the effects of post traumatic stress. This is the biggest category in terms of participation.
There are other categories for athletes who are visually impaired, or have lost limbs, or compete in wheel chair sports.
This was the second Invictus Games, but the first one I was involved in. The first was held in London in 2014, and the next one will be held in Toronto in September 2017.
In 2015, I competed at the Warrior Games, a US Department of Defense competition, where the different services (Army, Navy, etc.) compete against each other. I represented US Special Operations Command in cycling, swimming, and track and won five medals. Based on my success at the Warrior Games, I was selected for the 2016 US Invictus Games Team.
What was your experience like as a US Army veteran competing against other veterans?
It was a great experience to compete alongside other American veterans, but also against veterans from all over the world. It’s probably no surprise that the Danish, Dutch, and Italian cycling teams were incredibly strong, and they brought some serious competition.
I also found it very exciting to talk veterans from all over the world, including countries like Estonia, Australia and Afghanistan, and know that we all had something in common. It was great to be a part of a team representing the United States and also a major honor.
What was your experience like as an athlete with diabetes?
From an athletic perspective, I learned a lot about competing in multiple events in a single day. I’ve had a lot of success managing my diabetes while competing in triathlons, but I was a bit nervous about what the impact of multiple events over multiple days would be. But I worked closely with my doctor to review my plan and always checked my blood sugar before, during and after exercise.
I wasn’t the only athlete with diabetes on the US Invictus Team, so it was great to have a partner and also be able to spread the message of Team Novo Nordisk.
How did you meet 5-time Olympic gold medal winner, Ian Thorpe? Did he give you any words of encouragement?
Ian Thorpe was a guest broadcaster for the ESPN’s coverage of the swimming competition, and I had a chance to meet with him very briefly in between events. He wished me luck and said to keep working hard.
What was it like meeting Prince Harry? Did you get a chance to chat with him at all, and if so, what did you discuss?
Meeting with Prince Harry was one of the highlights of the 2016 Invictus Games. Since he deployed twice to Afghanistan with the UK Army, he really understands what everyone there has experienced. When he’s around other veterans he’s incredibly laid back and just wanted to be one of the guys (or ‘lads’ as they say in the UK).
I got to meet with him when he awarded medals for the 200M swimming relay. The US team I compete with won the silver, and the UK team won gold, so Prince Harry gave the US athletes a bit of a hard time. I told him not to get too relaxed and that we’ll see them again next year in Toronto.
How do you hope this experience will inspire other people affected by diabetes?
I really hoped to show people what could be possible as an athlete with diabetes. Despite being diagnosed with diabetes, I am able to compete at a very high level with athletes from all over the world and even win a few medals!
What impacted you the most competing at the Invictus Games?
The format of multiple, short events over several days was a bit intimidating at first, but with the right regimen, I was able to manage my diabetes and achieve a lot of success.
I’m excited to continue to try new disciplines and get out of my comfort zone. I was also inspired and humbled to be a part of something so significant, so I’m redoubling my efforts to live up to the commitment that organizations like the Invictus Games and Team Novo Nordisk have inspired in me.
Competing in a tough international field was an incredible experience, and I was ultimately able to medal in three events. I was proud to represent the United States, my fellow wounded, injured and ill veterans and Team Novo Nordisk. Getting a medal from Prince Harry was pretty cool, too.
- 3rd: 50M Freestyle ISD
- 3rd: 50M Backstroke ISD
- 2nd: 200M Freestyle Relay (Mixed)
It was amazing to race against an international field at the Invictus Games. The short distance and technical course didn’t suit me, but I was able to stay upright on a day with a lot of crashes. Most importantly, I was able to help my teammate bridge a gap after a crash broke up the field, ultimately putting him in 5th place.
- 19th: 1 Mile Time Trial
- 13th: 44′ Road Race
Learn more about Sean Walsh here.
(Cover Photo: Spc. Tracy McKithern)