Phil Badanai’s life completely changed in 1994 after his jeep came under attack while serving on a United Nations peace keeping mission in Croatia.
Badanai and John Tescione, a fellow soldier, were returning from one of their observation posts around 25 kilometres away from the Adriatic Sea in southern Croatia when a group of Serbian soldiers opened fire on their jeep.
“Next thing you know they all cocked their weapons and they opened up fire. I got shot twice, my passenger, John Tescione, got shot seven times, four in the back of the head, right arm, right shoulder, left hand,” Badanai told Global News, adding he had to drive around half an hour to get to a medical station.
The impact of that attack went well beyond the physical injury. Badanai said mentally it was a reoccurring nightmare that played over and over again in his mind for years. Badanai was suffering from PTSD. Eventually Badanai reached out for help, but that call for help ended his military career. He became a civilian with no direction and no support until about two years ago when he found out about the Invictus Games.
The Invictus Games began in the fall of 2014 and was founded by Prince Harry. It’s an event inspired by a trip in 2013 to the United States-based Warrior Games for wounded, sick and injured military personnel and veterans. Prince Harry wanted to create an international event that would honour military personnel and veterans around the world.
The first Invictus Games took place in London where more than 400 athletes from 13 countries came together to compete. Invictus means unconquered in Latin and the Games represent those men and woman who have come face to face with making the ultimate sacrifice. But the mandate behind the Games is not about individual winning, it’s about winning as a team.
Now in its third year, the Invictus Games is in Toronto. More than 500 athletes from 17 countries are competing.
Badanai is one of those athletes. This is his first Invictus Games. He is competing in three sports: wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby and indoor rowing. He was also chosen to be the flag bearer for Team Canada. Badanai said Invictus is the change he needed in his life to help make things better.
“I used to come to the gym and I had no goal, no drive. I was just a hamster on a wheel just spinning tires, not realizing what I am going for,” Badanai said.
“With Invictus, getting selected for the team, it has gave me a goal, a mission, something to strive for, something to make me go to the gym even though I did not want to.”
His inspiration to try out for the Games came from Steve Daniel, who served with the Royal Canadian Regiment for 14 years until he was partially paralyzed after a parachute landing incident.
Daniel competed in the Invictus Games in 2016 in Orlando and won silver in rowing. This year he will be representing Canada on the hard court in wheelchair basketball.
Like Daniel, Badanai said his training and competition his rehabilitation. He said Invictus gave him a purpose and a family to support him.
“When you don’t feel comfortable around people, you don’t feel comfortable in society, everything triggers,” Badanai said.
“You get angry … that was my thing. I would lash out … I don’t think you ever cure PTSD. You have to learn to live with it.”
Badanai said with Team Canada members, he’s with people who have a shared experience.
“We have gone through the same thing. I might not have served with them, but their experience and my experience is the same thing so I can relate to them and it’s been incredible,” he said.
Badanai said he now has a lifeline through sport.
“I am struggling, but I am still going. I am still trying to achieve what I said the goal is,” he said.
“Invictus is not the finish line. It’s the starting point to carry on and using sport and physical fitness for therapy.”
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