Darrell Ling had completed two of his three events at the Invictus Games when the Gleaner spoke with him online on April 20. After his seven-hour flight from Ottawa to The Hague in the Netherlands, he had settled well into the athletic complex. His events at the games are archery, sit-down rowing, and wheelchair basketball for ambulatory athletes. Ling, along with 32 other veterans, had been chosen to represent Canada in the 2022 edition of the Games.
He was brought up in the Valley, is a former student of Howick Elementary School and a 1981 graduate of Chateauguay Valley Regional High School. After graduation he moved to Nova Scotia, where he joined the Navy as a marine electrician and served in four NATO exercises. After his participation in the military responses to the Swissair flight 111 crash in 1998 and to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ling experienced PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He has struggled with its effects for many years.
The prince and Invictus
The Invictus Games were founded by Prince Harry in 2013 after he witnessed the healing power of sports on physically and psychologically challenged veterans and serving armed forces personnel. On his arrival in The Hague, Ling was thrilled to meet the prince and have a one-on-one conversation with him. “He tends to visit every venue,” says Ling.
The prince spoke with Ling before his rowing event. “He just asked me how I was doing in the Games and how will I be after the Games. He wanted to make sure that I’m doing OK.” Meghan Markel, Prince Harry’s wife, is accompanying her husband and was at the opening ceremonies. The couple had a breakfast with team Canada one morning, where the prince spoke with all team members.
The stress of competition
Although Ling has been training for two years for his events, the stress of competition in front of huge crowds was daunting. Before the rowing competition, Ling hesitated: “My body said, ‘You are not going to row…’ [but] I woke up this morning and the coach said, ‘Just come out and try it,’ so I went down to the park and got ready for the four-minute row and the one-minute row.” He was able to push through his fears and was pleased with his performance. “There were probably 2000 people there in the stands,” he reports.
Ling’s last event at the games will be wheelchair basketball. Unlike other national teams, the Canadian team was unable to train together as they are from different parts of the country. The first actual practice for the team was after their arrival at the games. “Other nations have been working together as a team for two years… We are just out there to have fun,” admits Ling.
He says that he is still learning to master the wheelchair. “I still don’t have the skills to be in the national team… I’m learning as I go.”
The support of teammates
Ling was proud to relate another special story that happened at the games. A teammate and friend from Ottawa was suffering from nerves before her event. Ling coaxed her through, helping her manage her anxiety. She was then able to compete and win a couple of medals in track and field. During his own rowing competition, this teammate handed him a box. Ling proudly held it in front of the computer screen during the interview; inside shone one of those shiny medals that the teammate had given to him as a thank-you.
The gift of the Games
Participating in the Invictus Games is a one-time opportunity. “They can only choose 32 people, and I have heard that there are over a thousand people applying for the next Games in Germany,” says Ling. “I know of one teammate who tried four times to be part of Invictus and finally got picked.”
Ling is proud of his accomplishment. “I’ve done something that I never thought I would do. Going to the Games was hard, especially with COVID. I’ve accomplished the things that I’ve done in front of a big crowd, and that was a lot.” He hopes his performance will inspire others: “I assume that there is someone, somewhere, suffering the way that I have been. I hope this gives them a nudge to participate in sports, or apply for Soldier On,” which is a program that supports veterans during the transition from active duty to civilian life.
As well as the excitement of participating in these Games, a production team from Netflix has been filming Ling and his journey to the games since Christmas. “They have been to my house three times, followed me to Ottawa, to Holland, and I think that they are coming back a couple more times after Holland. They are filming my growth and sharing my story, to help me through my issues.” The series follows five athletes: a Canadian, an American, a Dane, a South Korean and a Ukrainian. He is unsure when it will be released.
Ling’s voice wavers a little when he speaks: “I’m grateful for all the comments and the wishes I’ve been getting from the Valley. It’s been an emotional day for me; I did well in my row. Then (I met) Prince Harry and [my teammate] gave me her medal. I’m really emotional.”
You can follow Ling and Team Canada on the Facebook page, Darrell Ling-Team Canada Invictus Games 2022.