LONDON, U.K. (NNS) -- Twenty-two Navy and Coast Guard wounded warrior athletes competing at the Invictus Games attended a welcome reception Sept. 9 at U.S. Ambassador Matthew Barzun's residence in Regent's Park in London.
They were joined by family and friends, their U.S. teammates, and competitors from other nations. The opening ceremony for the Invictus Games will take place Sept. 10 in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, kicking off four days of adaptive athletics competitions.
"It gives me great pleasure to welcome all the competitors to London for the first Invictus Games. Thanks you for embracing the concept so enthusiastically and coming all this way," said Prince Harry, who attended the reception and posed for photos with athletes and their families.
"We hope that Invictus will take this concept to a wider platform, and engage more servicemen and women to harness the power of sport," he added.
The reception also featured a video message from President Barack Obama, who said: "Go Team U.S.A.!"
Wounded warrior advocate and news reporter Bob Woodruff also addressed the crowd. The reception also included a performance by the Foo Fighters, an award-winning band.
"Making the team and coming here to the U.K. has been an incredible experience so far," said retired Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jaime Garza, who was injured in a training accident in 2010. "I love to see all the support we have, and the staff has been amazing."
"The events they have lined up are incredible. My family is really happy to be here, and to see me compete," he said.
Earlier in the day, Garza and his teammate, retired Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jacob Emmott, participated in the Land Rover Jaguar driving competition, which served as a curtain-raiser for the Invictus Games. Their team placed fifth, and Emmott drove Prince Harry around an off-road Land Rover driving course.
The wounded warrior athletes departed the U.S. for London on Sept. 6, and they have been training as a team since they arrived. On Sept. 9, the U.S. sitting volleyball team went 3-0 against competing nations in preliminary competitions, ensuring their place in the final matches on Sept. 14.
"The opportunity to mingle with my fellow service members is just a huge bonding experience," said retired Coast Guard Electrician's Mate 1st Class Paul Johnson, who was injured in a shipboard accident. "I've met guys from France and Italy - it doesn't matter. We're all the same. It's just been fun doing that, besides anything else. I consider myself a winner, just being here."
Before the athletes departed, they attended a pep rally hosted by United Service Organizations (USO) Sept. 5 in Herndon, Virginia. The event featured American Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler, as well as video messages from NBA Hall-of-Famer and Naval Academy graduate David Robinson and U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalist Natalie Coughlin.
Several Navy and Coast Guard wounded warrior athletes also attended a reception hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden Sept. 4 in Washington, D.C. During the send-off event, they spoke and took photos with the all of the athletes, and they wished them luck in London.
Prince Harry announced the launch of the Invictus Games on March 6. The Royal Foundation, with the direct oversight of Prince Harry and the Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, are hosting the event, which brings together wounded warriors from 13 nations. The athletes are competing in archery, cycling, powerlifting, rowing, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby.
All of the Navy and Coast Guard athletes participating in the Invictus Games are enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior - Safe Harbor, the Navy's sole wounded warrior support program. NWW does not only assist those wounded in combat; it also help those battling serious illnesses or who are injured in accidents - on a ship, in training or on liberty.
To learn more about NWW, the Invictus Games and adaptive athletics, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil; call 855-NAVY WWP (628-9997) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For more news from Commander, Navy Installations Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cni/.