04 OCT 2017: As the Invictus games drew to a spectacular close in Toronto, Australia began its own countdown to the days it hosts Invictus. The Games are a relatively new international sporting competition for wounded military personnel, established in 2014 by Prince Harry who became inspired after watching US wounded veterans compete at the Warrior Games in Colorado.

As this year’s host-city Toronto welcomed more than 550 competitors from 17 nations who competed in 12 sports. Over 1,500 volunteers assisted the events that took place across the city between September 23 through September 30.

Judging by the Closing Ceremonies which was a 2-hour sold-out ticketed event held at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, it’s going to be a tough act to follow.

But then again, the Games are going to the Land Down Under.

Australia hosts

The Australia Tourism Office hosted guests in Toronto at a fanfare reception to watch the final evening’s line-up that can best be described as F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S.

Industry partners and media rubbed shoulders over glasses of Australian wines and dished on what will make Australia spectacular.

“There’s so much to see and do,” says Shirley Rourke, senior general manager of the Pacific Region for Goway Travel which is the oldest North American tour operator specializing in Australia.

She recommends clients book trips early and spend time before or after the Games exploring the various regions. “Make sure clients take in the Great Barrier Reef, a short flight from Sydney,” she says.

Other sightseeing tips include a 2-hour flight from Sydney to Melbourne for penguin viewing on Phillip Island or out to the Great Ocean Road or even experiencing the burgeoning coffee culture of Melbourne.

Wine lovers should consider a road trip through the Yarra Valley, 45 minutes from Melbourne to suss out wineries. Shirley added, wine lovers who will be at the Games in Sydney should take a 1-hour drive north to Hunter Valley. “Go for a day or two,” she recommends to soak in the scenery and enjoying sips along the way.

A member of the Australian delegation overseeing the Sydney host city’s planning committee was blown away by the offerings in Toronto but knows Canadians travelling to Australia will be even more blown away in Australia.

“It’s a long way to come but its damn well worth the trip,” says Alison Connolly, manager of strategic communications and events for the New South Wales Government Premier and Cabinet. The Invictus Games 2018 website, she adds, already has details on visiting Sydney, New South Wales, and has a dedicated website Sydneyforall.com on accessible attractions in and around Sydney.

Closing Ceremony Highlights

The spectacular line-up of powerhouse musical performances included multiple Grammy award-winning singers Kelly Clarkson and Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen, and Canadian talents Bachman & Turner, Bryan Adams, and Coeur de Pirate.

Springsteen who performed his iconic hits, “Dancing in the Dark,” and “The Promised Land” earlier in the evening later joined forces singing two songs with Bryan Adams. The duo performed Springsteen’s hit “Badlands,” and Adams’ 1983 hit “Cuts like a Knife.” That’s when the decibel ratings hit the roof.

People danced in the rows, there was arm-waving, swaying, and one big smiling bunch of ceremony goers.

invictus2018

Prince Harry

Then Prince Harry hit the stage. Wow!! At first, the thunderous applause was enough to bring down the roof but that quickly quelled when HRH started to deliver his closing speech.

You could hear a pin drop.

In case you missed it, here it is in full:

“I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to Michael Burns and his team, to all the amazing volunteers, to our friends and families, and to the people of Toronto.

You have delivered the biggest Invictus Games yet, with the most incredible atmosphere, making our competitors feel like the stars they are.

One week ago, I told you that you needed to be ready. But even I could not have been ready for the scale of what we witnessed at these Games.

I told you to be ready for some fierce competition. But I’m not sure any of us were ready for a group of men from Georgia - who until three years ago had never even played the game to battle all the way to gold in sitting volleyball.

I told you to be ready to see examples of determination, that would give you power in your own lives. But I’m not sure any of us were ready to see Mark Ormrod, with a medal round his neck, hoisting his son onto his shoulders, and capturing the imagination of the world.

I told you to be ready to see the true meaning of teamwork. But who could have predicted how powerful it would be to see competitors from Ukraine, Denmark, Romania, and America, band together, to form Team Unconquered, and win a sitting volleyball game with people they just met.

I told you to get ready to see role models that children would look up to. But who could have imagined that Randi Gavell, would compete on the track, on the court and in the pool, having battled back from emotional challenges, and while four and a half months pregnant. I think we all know who Randi’s little girl is going to look up to.

I told you to be ready to see lives change in front of your eyes. But I didn’t tell you that some of those lives would be your own.

I told you that anything is possible, if you have the will. But I didn’t tell you that when we saw triple amputee Mike Nicholson nail a 150 yard drive on the golf course, that our idea of what we thought was possible, would change forever.

I told you, you would be inspired. But I didn’t say, that these games, might leave you questioning, if you are living to your own true potential.

To the thousands who filled the stands this week, and the millions who watched at home, let me issue you a challenge. Don’t just move on from these games with happy memories. Instead, make an Invictus goal for yourselves.

Let the examples of service and resilience that you have seen, inspire you to take action to improve something - big or small - in your life, for your family, or in your community.

Let’s create a ripple effect of the Invictus spirit across our nations, that will be the real legacy of this extraordinary week.

As I did a week ago, I want to end by speaking directly to our competitors. Right now you’re on a high - at the summit of a mountain many of you thought was too high to climb. You have done it. This is the moment, right here, right now, shoulder to shoulder. You are Invictus.

These Games are not about gold, silver or bronze medals. They never have been. They’re about the journey that you and your families have made to the start line.

Now, going home, it might be tough, as the excitement fades, but you have faced much greater challenges before, it will be a breeze.

As I have said many times, once you have served, you are always serving. On your return home, I want you to set a new Invictus goal.

Make a plan about how you are going to use the experience of this week, to help lift up all those around you. It might be something big, like starting a new project for young people. Or, it might be something small, like reconnecting with an old friend. It doesn’t matter how big or small your step is - just take it.

Our world needs your dedication and passion like never before. And you never know, this may just be the missing piece of the puzzle to help you regain that satisfaction of serving others once again.

And, I’d also ask for one more important favour. I bet you can all think of at least one person who would benefit from the Invictus Games, but has yet to find the motivation to make that first step.

When we gather in Sydney next year, I look forward to seeing familiar faces in competition. But, more than anything, I hope to meet those who have watched these games at home, who may still be struggling, but with your support will wear their nation’s flag on their chest once again as part of the 2018 Games.

And I want to see those who have competed this year, back by their sides cheering them on, as others have done for you.

The Invictus Games are not just for the already determined. These Games are for those who need it most. Please help us find them.

It's gonna be Game On, Down Under. I’ll see you in Australia.”

Magical Meet-Up

Magical moments occurred throughout the evening. Among them was my impromptu surprise meet-up with Prince Harry.

Get ready for Invictus Games 2018 in Sydney, Australia. Dates: October 20-27, 2018


Images by Ilona Kauremszky

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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