Prince Harry praises athletes

The Invictus Games got off to a rollicking start Saturday as scores of war-wounded athletes marched, limped or wheeled their way to thumping martial music, dazzling lights and supportive cheers into a downtown Toronto arena, where they heard Prince Harry praise them for the courage that had brought them to the event he co-founded.

The prince, who earlier in the day wowed a crowd of well-wishers across from a mental-health facility he was visiting, drew sustained applause as he helped open the week-long Games.

Harry, who served in Afghanistan with the British army for about two months, said he wanted to use his platform "to help the world understand and be inspired by the spirit of those who wear the uniform."

"In a world where so many have reasons to feel cyncial and apathetic, I wanted to find a way for veterans to be a beacon of light and show that us all that we have a role to play — that we all win when we respect our friends, neighbours and communities," he said.

"That's why we created Invictus — not only to help veterans recover from their physical and mental wounds, but also to inspire people to follow their example of resilience, optimism and service in their own lives."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the athletes and coaches after the 17-country "Parade of Nations" that saw host Canada enter last to thunderous applause and cheering. Trudeau called them all an inspiration to others as he spoke of their sacrifices and dedication to helping others.

"No matter what challenges life has set before them, they continue to do what they do best: serve their countries, with passion and integrity," Trudeau said to cheers. "You're not only here to inspire, you're also here to win."

Trudeau added, "We know that no one leaves a battlefield unchanged, and that not all scars can be seen. Asking for help when you have physical and mental injuries, that’s hard for everyone. But it’s especially tough for people like you who have dedicated your lives to helping others."

A star-studded show featuring performances by Sarah McLachlan, Alessia Cara and a speech from actor Mike Myers entertained the appreciative crowd, who filled the arena for an opening ceremonies that included the national anthem sung by the Tenors and a Games flag-raising.

About 550 competitors from countries as far-flung as Afghanistan, Italy, Ukraine and New Zealand are taking part in 12 sports in the annual event, which was created by Prince Harry and aims to help the war wounded, many grievously, with their recovery.

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