thanks to sport, the soldiers injured in the operation work on their “reconstruction”

It’s a pretty cold morning. But at 8 in the morning, on the athletics track of the Center National des Sports de la Défense (CNSD), Sébastien started running alongside his two physiotherapists. We are in the heart of the Fontainebleau forest (Seine-et-Marne), south of Paris, where this huge sports complex is located armies. The former gendarme, now attached to the Territorial Center for Social Action in Bordeaux, saw his life change in 2001: “I had a stroke in the middle of training. I was 21 years old.”

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Sébastien still suffers from paralysis in one part of his body and sport has been a way for him to return to normality: “I returned to athletics in 2003, two years after my accident. It was my passion and I didn’t want to stay in a vegetable, although it is not the correct term, but in any case not as a person. I started training again. gradually and haven’t stopped since.“He is one of the 14 French soldiers participating in the V Invictus Games, a kind of Olympic Games for soldiers wounded in operations. The competition takes place in The Hague, the Netherlands, from April 16 to 22.

A little further on, in a clearing, is the archery range with a target at 18 meters. The goalkeeper is Franck. With his right hand he holds his bow and stretches the string with his mouth thanks to a point. This Air Force mechanic, based in Nancy, is a retired soldier after his serious injury in 2015 during a NATO exercise at the Albacete air base in Spain: “There is a Greek F16 that crashed on the runway, he remember. He came to hit us. There were 11 dead, including 9 French, also five seriously wounded from the Nancy base. We were hit by planes, debris, explosions. I received everything. He ripped off my safety shoes, broke my ankles, ripped off my toes.”

The 14 French athletes competing in the 5th edition of the Invictus Games have trained at the National Defense Sports Center (CNSD), in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne).  (JEROME VAL / RADIO FRANCE)

Franck still has the aftermath of this terrible day. For him, standing up is painful, his left hand remains frozen, his shoulder hurts, and he wears carbon protectors to protect his ankles. His military commitment was a passion. Instead, he had to slowly rebuild himself. For this father of two daughters, this participation in the Invictus Games is a crucial step in this process: “It’s a goal and a result.”

“We are never 100% rebuilt. It is a big phase of rebuilding through the sport that is played. Three quarters of the work will be done.”

Franck, ex-soldier wounded in operation

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Franck and Sébastien are not the only ones who have high hopes for this contest created in 2014 by Prince Harry. Among the 14 soldiers sent by the French army is also Corporal Major 1st Class Laurent of the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMA) from Carcassonne. He participated in 23 overseas operations in Africa and Afghanistan before sustaining a serious head injury. This French military team, so to speak, also has Corporal Master Thomas in its ranks, amputee of his right leg and who now dreams of participating in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

In The Hague’s huge Zuiderpak, athletes will compete in athletics, rowing, cycling, swimming or wheelchair rugby. Former soldiers with interrupted careers in France or abroad (in Mali, Afghanistan or the Central African Republic). “For them, it’s another way of representing their country,” sums up Captain Erwan Lebrun, who leads the reconstruction system through sport for the armies. For its fifth edition, the Invictus Games will bring together 17 nations until April 22.

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