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Harry hails Invictus Games team


Prince Harry (left) is the driving force behind the Invictus Games

Prince Harry (left) is the driving force behind the Invictus Games

Prince Harry (left) is the driving force behind the Invictus Games

Prince Harry gave a personal good luck message to the service personnel who will represent Britain at his inaugural Invictus Games when the 130-strong team was unveiled today.

The 29-year-old cracked jokes and raised a laugh as he had to retrieve his speech when it blew away at the announcement of the biggest British military sports team ever assembled from wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women.

The competitors will take on rivals from 13 other nations in a Paralympic-style competition in London next month.

Addressing members of the team and the throng of media gathered near Tower Bridge, Harry joked that he would get "so much banter" from the servicemen and women behind him.

He said: "Prosthetics, dogs, wheelchairs, high-performance cars, 4x4s, tattoos - we've got everything here. It could only be the Invictus Games."

As his speech blew away, raising laughter from the audience, Harry was forced to retrieve it, joking: "No blowing from the left, thank you."

He thanked the public and the media for their support of the games, which he has championed and are being backed by the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and the Ministry of Defence.

He said: "To all of you behind me, I would like to congratulate you on making the team.

"These men and women here have achieved so much already but being selected for this team is another significant milestone in their life beyond injury."

He said the games were not just for those taking part, but for the "wider family" and added that the team would not just be competing for themselves but for their "mates".

Harry, who also paused to ask "whose dog is that?" as one of the two dogs on the stage barked, thanked the families of all of those taking part, saying: "No one recovering from a life-changing injury could do it alone and everyone behind me will testify to that.

"The support of friends and family is vital and the games will recognise this enormous contribution.

"With the games only four weeks away, I cannot wait to watch this team compete against the other nations in the fantastic venues of the Olympic Park and Lee Valley."

He told the gathered servicemen and women: "Guys and girls, I wish you all the very best of luck in the final weeks of training.

"We've got four weeks left, let's make sure we're in tiptop condition to beat everybody else and bring back as many medals as we possibly can - not forgetting it's the taking part that counts."

Harry, who was joined by his brother the Duke of Cambridge on a surprise visit last week to athletes training for the event, posed for photos with members of the team, which is made up of 69% army, 23% naval service and 8% Royal Air Force, with 58% veterans and 42% still serving.

Today's team announcement follows a three-month training and trial period, where aspiring competitors undertook events in the nine adaptive sports that will feature in the games - archery, athletics, wheelchair basketball and rugby, cycling, powerlifting, indoor rowing, swimming and sitting volleyball.

The final 130-strong team, from across the UK, was chosen on criteria including commitment to training, performance, progression in their sport, and feedback from their coaches.

They will now continue their training in the run-up to the games, which start on September 10.

British Armed Forces team captain Captain Dave Henson, who lost his legs in a blast in Afghanistan in 2011, said: "Support itself plays a huge part in any kind of recovery process and I have experienced it first-hand.

"It's difficult to put into words how traumatic it can be when you suffer a life-changing injury like this."

He said the games would show the British public how the armed forces team were all "back on our feet, focused and ready to go", and it would show the public "how willing we are to recover, how willing we are to get back to the very best that we can be".

He said he was " absolutely buzzing" for the start of the games - taking place from September 10 -14 - adding: "The guys are ready, the level of skill is high, and we are looking forward very much to competing in front of you all in a few weeks' time."

The Games were heralded today by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon as representing the "best of British spirit".

He said: "Those who will be competing in the Invictus Games have already overcome enormous challenges and shown huge courage in the face of the life-changing injuries they received whilst bravely serving their country.

"They demonstrate the powerful role that sport and physical activity can play in recovery, with many being introduced to this through the Battle Back programme.

"The UK team represents the best of British spirit and I urge people to join me in cheering them on in a few weeks' time."

Invictus Games chairman Sir Keith Mills said: "My congratulations go to the remarkable men and women who have made the British Armed Forces team for the Invictus Games.

"They've done so through the same grit and determination that they've shown throughout their inspirational journeys of recovery.

"Next month the public has a unique chance to celebrate their 'invictus spirit' in the sporting arena and I don't have any doubt that our team will enjoy fantastic home support."

The team was joined by its mascot, Fire, a black Labrador search dog who was injured herself when an IED blew up in January 2012.

Colonel Neil Smith, former director of the Army Veterinary and Remount Services, who now owns her, said the five-year-old had recovered from severe injuries and was now acting as a mascot for the Games.

He said: "Fire was working as a detection dog in support of a patrol of 2 Rifles. She had just indicated there was an IED and it detonated, leaving her badly injured.

"She broke her jaw and another bone under her eye," he said, as well as suffering other injuries.

"She has made a remarkable recovery. People don't notice the scars until you point them out."

Harry, who is the driving force behind the Games, has pledged to make them a regular event as he called on the public to snap up tickets for the competition.

Teams have been invited from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Iraq, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and USA.

A star-studded closing ceremony will feature acts including Foo Fighters, Kaiser Chiefs, Ellie Goulding, Ryan Adams, The Vamps, Rizzle Kicks, James Blunt and Military Wives Choirs.

Corporal Ricky Furgusson, 29, who lost both legs, an eye and fingers on both hands in a bomb blast in Afghanistan in 2010, has been selected to compete in athletics in the games, and will use prosthetic running blades.

Cpl Furgusson, from Telford, Shropshire, said today was the first time he had met many of his team-mates, and the competitive spirit was already clear to see.

He said he was thrilled to have been chosen, but was hoping "not to come last".

The 29-year-old praised Harry for his involvement in championing the games.

"When people talk about him they always focus on the 'royal' bit, but he's just a normal bloke," he said.

"I met him and his brother last week when they came down to the track and they were just two normal, down-to-earth blokes.

"I think it's great that he's said 'We should have these games in London' and he's done so much to make sure they happen."

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