Roy­als’ NZ ar­rival

Ali­son Mau: Give Meghan track­ies and a lie-down.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

New Zealand’s In­vic­tus Games team is due home to­day with a gold, a bronze, and the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at­tended the clos­ing cer­e­mony last night along with In­vic­tus Games Syd­ney 2018 am­bas­sador David Beck­ham.

The royal cou­ple will touch down in Welling­ton with the team of wounded, in­jured and ill, ac­tive and vet­eran ser­vice­men af­ter shar­ing a Royal NZ Air Force flight from Syd­ney. The trip is part of the royal cou­ple’s first in­ter­na­tional tour to­gether.

They’ve spent time in Aus­tralia, Fiji and Tonga but the cou­ple’s bout of beau­ti­ful weather looks set to end when they ar­rive in wet and cloudy Welling­ton, be­fore mak­ing their way around sev­eral of­fi­cial en­gage­ments.

A wel­come cer­e­mony at Gov­ern­ment House with a powhiri, hongi and haka will be fol­lowed by a visit to the Pukeahu Na­tional War Me­mo­rial Park, and a call from Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern and Na­tional leader Si­mon Bridges. On Sun­day evening a re­cep­tion will also cel­e­brate 125 years of suf­frage.

Napier mum Kerri Burgess will be mak­ing the four-hour drive south early to­day in a bid to glimpse the royal cou­ple with daugh­ters Char­lotte and Amelia. ‘‘They’re just the cutest, to get a hand­shake would just be amaz­ing,’’ she said. The fam­ily planned to stay overnight – Burgess reck­oned the chance to meet Prince Harry and Meghan was worth miss­ing a day of school.

Mean­while, the Air Force flight will not be archer and navy ser­vice­man Ihaka Matairangi’s first time meet­ing the prince – they have a photo to­gether from last year’s games in Toronto, where Matairangi won bronze.

The 35-year-old, from Auck­land, re­mem­bered Harry as ‘‘the most hum­ble guy’’ and well versed in the art of the hongi.

How­ever, this is not why Matairangi said he thinks the world of the man: he is grate­ful to the prince for found­ing the In­vic­tus Games and the aware­ness the event raises for the phys­i­cal and men­tal health strug­gles of ser­vice­men, past and present.

‘‘I hope that peo­ple who are in iso­la­tion, for­mer ser­vice­men and women, who maybe aren’t aware of who have lost con­tact with the de­fence force – hope­fully hear­ing about [the In­vic­tus Games] will start open­ing doors for them like it did for me,’’ he said.

Matairangi en­listed in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2002. In 2007, he was di­ag­nosed with lung and tes­tic­u­lar can­cer. ‘‘The tu­mour in my left lung got so large it pushed my heart to the other side of my chest,’’ he said.

Down one tes­ti­cle and half a left lung, Matairangi was in re­mis­sion seven months af­ter his di­ag­no­sis. But it took a long time be­fore he was able to meet the min­i­mal fit­ness re­quire­ments to be back out at sea, so he spent years teth­ered to an of­fice job with the navy – which knocked his con­fi­dence.

Matairangi said the In­vic­tus Games helped give him the fo­cus he needed to train, and that he’s no­ticed an im­prove­ment in his men­tal health by hon­ing his fit­ness. The games let him re­dis­cover him­self and start ‘‘turn­ing neg­a­tives into pos­i­tives’’, he said.

A pas­sion project of Prince Harry, the In­vic­tus Games have been held an­nu­ally since 2014.

The word ‘‘in­vic­tus’’ comes from a poem by 19th-cen­tury poet Wil­liam Ernest Hen­ley, him­self an am­putee, in which he thanks the gods for an ‘‘un­con­quer­able soul’’.

Five hun­dred com­peti­tors from 18 na­tions took part in this year’s games, com­pet­ing in 11 adap­tive sports, in­clud­ing wheel­chair rugby.

New Zealand’s Craig Wilson, a for­mer SAS sol­dier, won gold in the men’s 1500m and ex-in­fantry sol­dier Nu Filo won bronze in the men’s shot put.

Ihaka Matairangi, far left, with Prince Harry and, far right, Wil­lie Api­ata VC.

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