Perhaps it's not surprising that Christy Wise's favorite event of the 2017 Invictus Games was one where she helped others.
During the Criterium cycling, Wise was on an upright bicycle, trying to keep up with the other female competitors during the first two laps. Frustrated and upset that she couldn't catch up to them, especially after she'd focused on cycling in her training, the 31-year-old found herself thinking, 'What am I doing here?'
"And then on the next lap, my coach said, 'Christy, wait just a little -- help Sebastiana [Lopez, Wise's U.S. teammate] catch the British competitor by drafting off you,'" Wise said. "He gave me purpose again for the race." Wise and Lopez, a hand cyclist, are close friends, and they stayed together the rest of the race. Lopez won a silver medal. Afterward, each told the other they wouldn't have finished the race without one another.
That teammate-first mentality was evident throughout the Invictus Games, the international adaptive sports event where injured, ill and wounded servicemen and women and veterans compete, that ran Sept. 23-30 in Toronto. For some, including Lopez, it was their first time competing at Invictus; for others, like Wise and her U.S. teammates Stefan Leroy and Ivan Sears, they returned hoping to improve upon previous event times and enjoy the camaraderie and competition.
Sears dominated wheelchair racing again, repeating his incredible performances of the 2016 Invictus Games by winning four gold medals: this time, in the 100 meters, 200m, 300m, 1500m. His wheelchair rugby team also won a bronze medal.
Leroy won a silver medal in the men's ISB 50m backstroke; a bronze medal in the men's ISB 100m freestyle and a bronze medal with the sitting volleyball team.
"We were both in very competitive heats in swimming, and we were talking about how cool it would be to earn a medal," Wise said of she and Leroy. "Stefan finished second -- I was so proud of him. My best finish was fifth in the breaststroke."
While she may not have medaled in swimming, Wise still won several pieces of hardware, including bronze in the 4x100m mixed relay; a bronze medal in the IT1/IT2/IT3 100 m final; a bronze medal in the IT1/IT2/IT3 200m final; a bronze in women's road cycling IRB1/IRB2 Criterium; and a bronze in the women's road cycling IRB1/IRB2 Time Trial.
Wise also got to talk again to the Games' founder, as she did last year, when fellow pilot Prince Harry presented her the bronze medal in track. Prince Harry, who founded the Invictus Games in 2014, appeared at many events, sitting next to and talking with former President Barack Obama as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at Friday night's wheelchair basketball game.
"Let the examples of service and resilience that you have seen inspire you to take action to improve something big or small, in your life, for your family or in your community," Prince Harry said at the Closing Ceremony on Saturday night. "It doesn't matter how big or small your step is -- just take it."
That lesson carried forward for many of the competitors, even as the events took place. Wise's favorite moment came when three women from the Australian team sought her out and gave her one of their team shirts, telling Wise that she had inspired them. "That touched me so much," Wise said afterward. She also recalled her elation at seeing friend and fellow U.S. teammate Anthony McDaniel score the winning three-point shot for the U.S. to secure a gold medal over the Netherlands in wheelchair basketball.
Now, the athletes take some much-deserved time to recover. "It's fun and exhausting to compete," Wise said, the day after traveling home to Arizona from the Games. "I have some blisters on my prosthetic side from all the events where my socket rubs. My good knee and toe are so sore. Last night I could barely walk getting off the plane. Still, the experience of Invictus is just so amazing."