They came from 14 countries, from New Zealand to Afghanistan to Canada, 500 wounded men and women who sacrificed for their countries, then delighted the world through sports. The second edition of the Invictus Games, the multi-sport event for wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans, ran from May 8 through May 12, in Orlando. These athletes swam, ran, and rowed; they played wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball and wheelchair rugby. The brainchild of Prince Harry, himself a military vet who served in Afghanistan, the Invictus Games served more than just mere curiosity. With blanket coverage by ESPN, the vice president in attendance, and compelling competition between the lines, the Games became a cultural phenomenon.
“Fair enough USA, I give it to you,” said Prince Harry after the American wheelchair basketball thumped the U.K., 48-16, “it’s only right in your home games you end up taking most of the golds, but let me remind you, this has never been about the medals as you know. This is about bringing amazing people together, sharing experiences and literally watching lives change in front of you in this arena, outside in the pool, wherever it is. And you’ve witnessed it and we’re the lucky ones to have witnessed it together.”
New York-based photographer Erik Tanner took portraits of the athletes after each event, subtly showing the intensity of the competition. Last year, Tanner photographed at the Defense Department’s Wounded Warrior Games, during which 270 veterans from every branch of American military service competed in events like swimming, archery and field.
A highlight of the Games: Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, a medic from Arizona, giving one of her four swimming gold medals back to the Prince. She asked that the medal be shipped to the British hospital that saved her life in 2014. On the eve of the first Invictus Games, in London that year, Marks fell ill with a serious lung condition, and had to be put into an induced coma. “They absolutely saved my life,” Marks said. The next Invictus Games will be held next September, in Toronto. So much more greatness awaits.
Erik Tanner is a photographer based in New York City.
Sean Gregory, a senior writer for TIME, covers sports for the magazine and TIME.com.
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