cAs the Invictus Games come to a close tonight in Sydney, the competitors say the best memories will not be their wins — with some even giving their medals away — but how others made them feel.
The 500 competitors from 18 nations have entered the Sydney Super Dome to roaring cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have also been spotted on the big screen, drawing gasps from the audience.
All competitors received medallions as they entered the ceremony, given by Olympic champions Ian Thorpe and Anna Meares and the Governors-General of Australia and NSW.
For those competitors unable to hold their medallions while on crutches, officials placed the medallions in their pockets.
The audience went wild for Colin Hay from Men at Work, who performed the unofficial Australian anthem, Down Under, and used their phones as lanterns while Australian band Birds of Tokyo performed.
The Invictus Above and Beyond award was given to Edwin Vermetten of the Netherlands for the unforgettable moment early this week when he comforted his competitor, Paul Guest from the UK, during a tennis event.
Guest’s PTSD was triggered by an overhead chopper and Vermetten raced to his side to offer support in the way of singing Let it Go from the movie Frozen.
After accepting the award, Vermetten and Guest had an emotional embrace while the audience sang the same song that brought him comfort a few days ago.
George Nepata from New Zealand is the first tetraplegic to compete at Invictus and was acknowledged with the Exceptional Performance award.
During a wheelchair rugby match between New Zealand and Australia, Nepata was handed the ball by the green and gold side and pushed over the goal line as a gesture of respect for his efforts.
He played every minute of every game for his team due to a competitor drop-out.
The Kiwi team rose to their feet and performed the Haka to congratulate Nepata.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Sydney was incredibly proud to be the third Invictus host and said “we hope to host you all again”.
“May you travel back safely to your homes knowing you have inspired millions around the world.”
It has been obvious all week that big wins were not what the competitors were here for — they were just a bonus — it was the famous “Invictus spirit” that everyone was talking about.
For retired staff sergeant Sebastiana Lopez from the US Air Force, the act of giving her medal away to two Australian children meant more than receiving it.
“I met these two little girls at the restaurant before I did discus,” she said.
“They were so excited, so happy, said ‘oh my god we saw you on the tele … we’re your biggest fans’.”
The girls waited five hours for Lopez to throw and for their support, they were rewarded in a huge way.
“Giving them my gold medal was a standout moment for me.”
Former Australian commando Garry Robinson could not go past the unbelievable moment when UK triple amputee Mark Ormrod learnt breast stroke in less than an hour so Robinson had an entrant to compete against.
Ormrod said he “figured out” the stroke in the warm-up pool so the crowd had a race.
“He inspires me,” Robinson said.
“Since that moment we have become even better friends.”
Pa Modou Njie, who served in the UK army, said his favourite part of being here was witnessing how much another team had improved in volleyball.
“For me it was the Jordanian team and seeing how far they had come along,” he said.
“They’ve really gelled as a team … they were a lot better this year and played a really good game.
“That was special to me.”
And for Sonya Newman, who is still serving in the Australian Army, it was a thoughtful gesture from Olympian Ian Thorpe that made her games.
“My favourite moment was when Ian Thorpe grabbed my kids from the crowd and brought them down to the medal presentation so they were there for me accepting gold in the 50-metre backstroke.”
“Honestly, you can’t get a better moment than that. I will remember it forever.”