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'You’ve been imprisoned in a way, and this opens things up again'

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'You’ve been imprisoned in a way, and this opens things up again'
Denmark's Invictus team received a send-off at the Kastellet fortress in Copenhagen. Photo: The Local
17:16 CEST+02:00
Denmark’s Invictus Games team was given a send-off at Kastellet in Copenhagen on Friday in an event co-arranged by the British and Australian embassies.

The 25-strong team of veterans from Denmark’s armed forces is travelling to Sydney, Australia to compete in the 2018 edition of the event.

The first Invictus Games to be held in the southern hemisphere will see teams from 18 countries participate, including the hosts and the United Kingdom.

Launched by Prince Harry in 2014, the Invictus Games is an international multi-sport event in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans take part in track and field events, swimming and other sports.

Prince Harry met Danish veterans and Invictus team members when he visited Copenhagen in October last year, and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik attended the selection of the Danish Invictus team in May.

Johan Lehrmann, a Danish veteran who will compete in a string of swimming and cycling events at Invictus 2018 in Sydney, spoke to The Local about his hopes for the games.

“Of course I’m nervous, but I’m very excited to see the atmosphere and set-up. As I understand it’s big, like a miniature Olympics. I’m excited to see that and how it is, and how I deal with that myself. I have post-traumatic stress and one aspect of that is that I can feel anxious in large spaces with lots of people.

“It’ll be a challenge. I have to challenge myself to get through it. I’m hopeful it will go well, and I hope I’ll benefit from it,” Lehrmann said.

The Danish veteran explained the emphasis of the Invictus concept on veterans’ personal journeys as they recover from traumatic experiences.

“The thing that has helped me the most so far is realising that you can do more than you thought you could. I’ve had this diagnosis for almost two years now and have been a long way down. At times I couldn’t leave the house and was really struggling. So being invited or joining up for something like this, where you get teammates that can back you up on your journey, and seeing each other’s progress, that is really giving me a lot,” he said.

“You’ve been imprisoned in a way (by PTSD, ed.), and this opens things up again, and you can get out and overcome your fears,” he explained.

“You know you’re going into something that is potentially ‘dangerous’ for you, but you know what you’re going into, and that can help you to be more ready to deal with situations at home, for example if you find yourself in a huge crowd where you’d normally close down – perhaps you’ll learn that you’ve overcome something, and believe a little in yourself,” he said.


Johan Lehrmann is one of 25 veterans who will represent Denmark in the 2018 Invictus Games. Photo: The Local

Of 50 initial applicants, 25 were chosen on the basis of medical and psychological evaluations as to who would most benefit from selection to the Danish team, Lehrmann said.

“It’s not so much about the sport itself. Whether you’re fat, thin, fast or slow, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what it gives you – an individual person,” he said.

“But I’m a competitive person at heart, and there are definitely a few things I’m looking forward to,” he added.

Danish Vice Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Max A.L.T. Nielsen, who gave a speech for the departing team members, said that “rehabilitation on one hand and recognition on the other” were the most important factors for Denmark’s participation.

“They are athletes, and they’ll compete alright – but at the end of the day, they need to progress on their own personal rehabilitation and if we’re succeeding in that, then everything is perfect,” Lieutenant General Nielsen told The Local at Friday’s send-off event.

The Vice Chief of Defence also noted that the event, which was joint-hosted by the British and Australian embassies in Denmark, was a sign of those countries’ shared desire to support recovering veterans.

“This is solid proof of unbroken strong ties between close allies. It is that short and it’s that simple. We co-operate very, very closely, we help one another and we also make sure that it is dealt with afterwards and this is a solid proof of that,” he said.

The 2018 Invictus Games are seen by many as pertinent given the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War and the change in attitudes towards physically and mentally injured veterans since that conflict.

“There is a principle and a spirit behind Invictus. It is about camaraderie, it is about enjoyment, it is about sport, it is about rehabilitation, it is about respect, and respect for what veterans have done,” British Ambassador to Denmark Dominic Schroeder told The Local.

“Those veterans, in the case of the Danish veterans, have very often been veterans who have fought, and, unfortunately, (some) have died alongside British forces, and I think it’s absolutely right and proper that we recognise what it is that Danish veterans have contributed to shared values,” the ambassador said.

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