ORLANDO, Fla. – After suffering a noncombat injury during a motorcycle accident in 2014, Gabby Graves-Wake found herself at a crossroads during her recovery and rehabilitation.
The Marine, who suffered injuries to her legs, lower back and head, could have either been filled with self-pity or found the inspiration to push through during the recovery. She chose the more challenging path, joining up with the Wounded Warrior Regiment and Military Adaptive Sports Program to use sports as part of her rehabilitation.
Graves-Wake will be among 500 participants in this week's Invictus Games, an international Paralympic-style multisport event, at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. She will participate in wheelchair track, seated shotput and discus and cycling.
"I do this because it means I have no excuse to sit down and say, 'I feel sorry for myself. I can't come back from an injury,'" said Graves-Wake, 22. "What this means to me is that I'm better than my injury, I'm better than I was before and I will continue to thrive, go on new adventures and experience new things and meet new people and have the time of my life."
The Invictus Games, a creation of Great Britain's Prince Harry, gives wounded and sick military personnel and veterans a chance to compete. Athletes from 15 countries will compete in 14 sports starting Monday and lasting until Thursday. The Opening Ceremony kicks off the games Sunday evening with Prince Harry and first lady Michelle Obama taking part.
"This is going to be something very special because there has never really been outside of the InvictusGames an international competition for injured veterans," said Ken Fisher, the event's chairman and CEO. "They have been using the power of sport to aid in their rehabilitation."
The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands and Germany are among the countries participating in the Invictus Games. President Barack Obama and his wife put out a video challenging the other participating countries, and Prince Harry and Queen Elizabeth, as well as Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have issued their respective challenges via video.
For the athletes it's just an opportunity to compete, serve their country and to regain that sense of team they once enjoyed in their respective military branches.
"What it means for me is to be a part of group again because in the military you have this very close bond," said Kelly Gerristsen, who will represent the Netherlands in powerlifting, sitting volleyball and rowing this week. "When you are leaving the army you are never going to find it again. To be a competitor over here and to have the bonding again, it's amazing."