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Invictus Games inspire recovery

Capt (ret’d) Casey Balden, who used to work at Joint Task Force Pacific, competed in sitting volleyball and athletics at the Invictus Games.

Invictus Games inspire recovery for injured veteran

By Peter Mallett,
The Lookout Staff

When retired RCAF Cpl Gina Pinangat of Victoria heard Prince Harry’s address at the Opening Ceremony for Invictus Games 2018 in Sydney, Australia, his words rang true for her.

“You are role models for us all and we are going to put on one hell of a show over the next week,” said Prince Harry. “Be inspired, get excited. Allow the example of service and determination that you all see to change something big or small in your lives.”

Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat, 53, was one of 39 Team Canada members that included 17 serving and 22 veterans who gathered at the Sydney Opera House on Oct. 20 for the kickoff event. Her teammate, recently retired Capt Casey Balden, who used to work at Joint Task Force Pacific, competed at the Games in sitting volleyball and athletics.

Created by Prince Harry, the Invictus Games help ill and injured veterans and military personnel realize the value of healing through sport and exercise. This year’s fourth edition of Invictus wrapped up October 27 and brought together 500 competitors from 18 nations competing in 11 adaptive sports.

At this year’s Games Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat competed in power lifting, sailing and wheelchair basketball. She suffers from chronic lower back pain, migraines, gerd, tinnitus, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, until recently, depression.

Being selected by the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services non-profit Soldier On from the hundreds of applications they received was a surprise, but getting a chance to compete for Canada and attend the opening ceremony was “truly inspirational.”

“I had tears in my eyes, tears of joy at the Opera House,” she said. “I was so happy to be there and hear the Prince speak in person; it was the memory of a lifetime.”

She never dreamed she would meet the Prince and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle in person. But that happened two days into the Games. She and her sailing teammates were sitting on board their boat after their fourth place finish and at that moment they had an unexpected visit by the British Royalty.

“They pulled their boat alongside ours and I thought to myself, is this really happening?” said Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat. “I forgot to take my sailing gloves off before I shook their hands, it all happened so quickly and my teammates and I were caught by surprise. What a memory.”

But there were more memories to come. Two days later when she was competing in the weight lifting competition – Games Ambassador Gus Worland not only met and shook hands with her but the two exchanged an emotional hug.

Worland, 49, is a childhood friend of actor Hugh Jackman and founder of the Australian mental health and suicide awareness charity Gotcha4Life.  In a video posted on Twitter, Worland filmed his encounter with Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat after he saw her competing in the power lifting competition. That moment brought him to tears.

Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 1991 under the old Foreign Domestic Movement Program and worked as a caregiver. After that she found work with Nortel Networks, but in 2001 the former telecom giant suffered bankruptcy and she was out of work.

She eventually joined the CAF as an Aerospace Telecommunications Systems Technician. She worked at this job for nine years and called it a “life-changing’ experience”, until her health problems led to her medical release.

Being involved in the Games, says Cpl (Ret’d) Pinangat, has been good medicine for her recovery.

Even though she did not win a medal at the Games, she says that she and all of the other athletes who competed were victorious.

“I am ecstatic about competing in the Games and it exceeded my expectations about what it will do for me down the road. I am learning to enjoy life again, starting the healing process and avoiding depression and dwelling on the bad things in my life. I will continue on the process of self-care, mindfulness, and meditation to keep me grounded. I’m learning to live again.”

A record 18 nations participated at the 2018 edition of the games: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Medals Won

Canada won a total of six medals at this year’s Games: four bronze and two silver.

The winners:

Bombadier (Ret’d) Naomi Fong – two bronze medals in cycling

Gunner (Ret’d) Dave Innes – silver in men’s indoor rowing

Lt(N) Nicole Murillo – silver in women’s archery

Capt (Ret’d) Cavell Simmonds – bronze in women’s archery

MCpl (Ret’d) Derek Anderson, Cpl (ret’d) Mathew Belear, and Sgt Francois Gauvin – bronze in men’s team archery.