TORONTO, Sept. 27, 2017 —
As fans lined up for photos and autographs, Tony Pone, a medically retired Army specialist who earned gold medals in the men’s shot put and discus at his first Invictus Games, just smiled and took it all in at the York-Lions Stadium here.
More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations are competing in 12 sporting events, including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball from Sept. 23-30 as they are cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators in the Distillery District here.
“It’s very surreal. It’s one of the greatest experiences, ever, as far as my sports world is concerned,” said Pone, a former supply specialist. “I’ve never felt anything like the energy I feel like I do here at the Invictus Games. It’s unexplainable. I can’t compare it to anything else in the world.”
Ken Fisher, CEO and founder of the Fisher House, even stopped by to congratulate him.
“You’re not going to miss wheelchair rugby and basketball are you?” Pone quipped.
“You think I’m going to miss watching the rugby? You’re crazy?” Fisher said back to him as he smiled and shook his hand.
Pone said he joined the Army to serve his country. “I love representing my country, and I wanted to make a change in the world. I wanted to set a good example for my daughter, Shakiya,” he said.
After a car accident and multiple surgeries, Pone became an above-the-knee amputee. Four years after his injury, he was trying to get back into shape and be more active when he found wheelchair basketball.
“I went out and gave it a try and fell in love with it. It’s been a love story ever since,” he said with a big smile.
Pone earned gold medals in wheelchair basketball at the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Department of Defense Warrior Games. He also took home a gold medal in shot put and a silver medal in seated volleyball in 2013.
Each athlete is competing for his or her nation, but there’s also camaraderie, Pone said.
“Everyone feels like brothers and sisters here,” he said. “I feel like I have a bunch of brothers and sisters from other countries. It just feels good to compete and root for other countries as they root for you as well.”
He said the hard work he and the other competitors put into training all year pays off during the competition, and it’s also good to receive the love and support from the fans. “It’s a loving atmosphere,” Pone said. “When we get out into the crowd and feel all the admiration and love we receive, it makes it feel all worth it and makes us work harder, even when we’re on our off season. I love it.”
Pone said he works with a strength coach and yoga coach as well as sticking to a routine to stay focused on maintaining peak performance.
Pone said the team is like a family that doesn’t stop at the games. “All year-round, we’re always checking on each other’s progress and seeing where we’re at and that’s the support we need. Some days, we don’t feel like doing what we need to do. But just having that conversation or having that talk with somebody that’s doing the same thing you’re doing gives you much more motivation to finish your workouts or do that competition that needs to be done so you can reach the next level,” he said.
As the fans came up to say hello and meet him this week, Pone said he was happy to share the awareness that people with disabilities are relevant in society.
“We want to be noticed. We want to be heard. We’re not just people in wheelchairs. We’re not helpless. We do events like this to show that we stand out just as much as anyone else, if you give us a chance. We can be heard just as loud. We are Invictus.”
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)