Prince Harry Opens the Invictus Games with Powerful Speech on Mental Illness

Last night, a stadium filled with people stood transfixed.

It was the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Invictus Games at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, FL. James Blunt had just given an amazing mini concert, two Black Hawk helicopters had escorted the Invictus Games flag, and four U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets had flown over our heads in a diamond formation. The energy in the stadium was palpable, with everyone moved to tears by the support of military families and the powerful stories of the veterans.

Photo courtesy of Chris Jackson/Getty Images

But it was Prince Harry, the man everyone was truly waiting for, who put into words the incredible meaning of the Invictus Games and why he has fought so hard to make it a global initiative.

Walking on stage to a standing ovation, he told the audience how his 10-year military career that included two tours in Afghanistan shaped him as a man; how experiencing the camaraderie of the men and women and the true sacrifice of war forever changed how he viewed the world and his place in it; how he joined for a sense of normalcy, but instead experienced something so singular, only those who have gone through it could truly understand.

“I joined the Army because, for a long time, I just wanted to be one of the guys,” Prince Harry said. “But what I learned through serving was that the extraordinary privileges of being a prince gave me the extraordinary opportunity to help my military family. And that’s why I had to create the Invictus Games, to build a platform for all those who have served, to prove to the world what they have to offer.”

"I cannot tell you how proud and excited I am to open @invictusorlando here in America” – Prince Harry #WeareInvictus Photo courtesy of Chris Jackson/Getty Images

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Photo courtesy of Chris Jackson/Getty Images

He went on to explain what the Invictus Games are truly about — supporting wounded veterans who have given their all, both in and out of the combat zone.

“Over the next four days,” Prince Harry continued, “you will see things that in years past just wouldn’t have been possible. You will see people who by rights should have died on the battlefield but instead they are going for gold on the track or in the pool. Mark my words, you will be inspired. You will be moved. And, I promise, you will be entertained.”

It was a moving speech, which you can watch in full here, paving the way for First Lady Michelle Obama and former President George W. Bush to tell their own stories of how they have worked hard to support the military and their families.

But the most important part of his 12-minute monologue, and the topic that was much discussed throughout all of the events, was the emphasis on the “invisible” wounds of war — mental illness.

“It is not just physical injuries that our Invictus competitors have overcome. Every single one of them will have confronted tremendous emotional and mental challenges. When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with missing limbs, let’s also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn’t even leave his house. Let’s cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress, and let’s celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression.”

In a recent interview with PEOPLE magazine, Prince Harry explained that he himself is often plagued by “flashbacks,” though he admits that they “have not been that brutal. I haven’t see what the other guys have seen. There’s all sorts of things that can happen through your life, that if you don’t deal with it, you don’t talk about it, then it can end up affecting you in later life.”

It is that candor, that incredible compassion and dedication to others that is so captivating — and so very similar to his late mother.

Princess Diana used her brief life to champion the causes close to her heart, to reach out to the sick and suffering. She used her privilege and her worldwide fame to garner support and funding for those who desperately needed it around the world. From land-mine victims in Angola to terminally ill patients at Mother Teresa’s hospice in India, she connected with people on a deep and honest level. And clearly Prince Harry is doing his very best to follow in her footsteps and honor her memory, in his own special way.

Prince Harry once said that he hopes his mother is “looking down with tears in her eyes,” and recently stated that “all I want to do is make my mother incredibly proud.”

While we are sure that she is, we know for a fact that everyone in that stadium last night — and everyone watching at home — was incredibly proud of the work he’s done, too.

The 2016 Invictus Games are being held in Orlando, FL from Sunday, May 8th to Thursday, May 12. Buy your tickets here.

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