Tissues at the ready, because I just spent the week at Prince Harry's Invictus Games, and I don't know if I'll ever emotionally recover. When I first knew I was coming to the Invictus Games, I couldn't have foreseen the overwhelming impact it would have on me.
The games have been a true whirlwind of emotions, determination, grit, and passion being my main takeaways from the slew of utterly inspirational people who took to the arena. From spending time talking to the incredible people who have dedicated themselves to the tournament, as well as seeing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's passion live in person, it's safe to say this trip will stay with me forever - and summing it up is no mean feat but I will do my best!
I kicked off the week catching up with Gloria Orwoba, who is a Kenyan senator passionate about period poverty. She was the personification of joy, dressed in head-to-toe Kenyan attire, including a wide-brimmed hat and Kenyan-themed nails. Gloria told me all about her chat with Prince Harry when she sat next to him for the athletics final.
She said she was sad to have missed the opportunity to meet the Duchess of Sussex who, I have no doubt, will be excited to hear of Gloria's plans.
The Prince and I
Ahead of Meghan's sporting debut, I had the privilege of attending the Invictus Games Friends and Family Dinner where the Duchess made a fantastic speech. The atmosphere was second to none with bellowing cheers exploding from the crowd every few words.
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Before she took to the stage, I had the unbelievable opportunity to meet the Prince and shake his hand ahead of his candid conversations with competitors and their family members. To say their spirits (and mine after that handshake) were high is an understatement. Both the Duke and Duchess were gifted books, a bracelet and a medal at the dinner, which Prince Harry said to Meghan they would "keep and bring with them".
The books were given to the Duke by Jayson Hooker, who is the husband of Ainsley Hooker, a competitor. Upon meeting Jayson, Harry quipped to Meghan: "I grabbed [the books] and I went to grab his beard and he was weirdly okay with it," prompting laughter from the group.
The Markle Sparkle
Since Meghan arrived on Tuesday, I have to say the Prince was even more effervescent than he was on the days before she landed. Their connection is unquestionable having seen them enjoying the games from the comfort of the stands. The entire week they have remained so incredibly tactile and affectionate towards each other, laughing and cuddling, which was such a heartwarming thing to witness.
And it's safe to say that their affections for their Invictus family were just as strong. I saw Harry blowing kisses to one little girl and dancing with Lucy, a member of the GB team, when he learned they shared their birthday.
Harry and Meghan, in turn, have received more than their fair share of affection from both attendees and contestants alike. Meghan, in particular, has been overwhelmed with love and hugs. The Nigerian team were just besotted by the Duchess.
My jaw-dropping moment
Now there is one moment from my time at the games which, quite honestly, I am still in disbelief about.
On Thursday evening, I happened to spot Harry and Meghan wandering the cobbled streets of Dusseldorf After the Prince’s birthday dinner (can you believe it?!).
The royal couple and their Archewell family were out celebrating the Duke's big day just minutes away from where I have been staying in the heart of the city. I could not believe my eyes when they strolled past - I mean the police officers were a bit of a giveaway, but colour me shocked with a capital 'S'!
Also in shock was Thea Ungermann, the owner of Im Goldenen Kessel, the restaurant which hosted Harry’s celebrations.
"I had goosebumps when they walked into the restaurant,” she told me. “ I had watched [Prince Harry’s] speech on the stage at the Invictus Games and couldn't believe he was in my restaurant. He was so lovely and gave me a hug."
Having been at the games for five days now, the number one thing that rings true is just quite how life-changing the competition is for its competitors and their families, who have experienced and overcome unimaginably traumatic battles.
It was brought home when I met up with Derrick Cobbinah, the facilitator for the Nigerian team, and their team leader, Bobby Ojeh, on Wednesday. Derrick made a very sad revelation about people with disabilities in Africa, which made me most emotional.
"The stigma around disability of people in Africa … [in African society] people don't understand [disabled people] so they are kept away from public view. Everywhere in Africa, people do not see disabled people doing a lot of sports.
"It's not that common, so for Invictus to come in and bring an element of hope for people with disabilities coming up and doing more, and being be integrated into society, [is so important]."
Meanwhile, team leader Bobby opened up about his experience with the Duchess who not only received her own Nigerian names but also told Bobby she wanted to pay Nigeria a visit with her children, Archie and Lilibet, and her mother, Doria Ragland.
"Behind every successful man is a woman, and trust me Meghan has been amazing, contributing to the success story of Invictus,” said Bobby. “The sky is the limit but trust me they are going to the heavens.”
I think that the last part sums up every single competitor and their devoted family members who have overcome many barriers in their respective journeys. We ended our chat with hugs all round, leaving me with a tear in my eye.
My time at Invictus? Tears, cheers and a whole lot of love!
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