International media were buzzing. Not only was Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, visiting the training camp of the Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025 Presented by ATCO and Boeing, but he was also trying some of the adaptive sports that wounded, injured or ill athletes would be competing in at the 2025 Games.

After flying down a frozen track headfirst on a skeleton sled at almost 100km/h, he said, “Everyone should do this – it should be compulsory.”

And the 2025 Invictus Games’ Sport Technical Director Martin Colclough would be the first to agree.

Martin was in the military for 34 years, starting his career in the British Army in 1977 in the Parachute Regiment when he was just 16. After gaining his wings in 1979 he worked as a PTI at the Parachute Regiment Depot before transferring to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps in 1985. During his time as the Gymnastics Specialist at the Army School of Physical Training he developed interest in rehabilitation and disability sport. This led to him training as a Joint Service Remedial Instructor (RI) at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital, Woolwich, in 1990.

The RI course sparked a latent interest in academic pursuits and he went back to school, earning a BSc (Hons) degree in Sport and Exercise Science in 1995 and an MSc in Rehabilitation and Research three years later.

Martin has been associated with disability sport for over 30 years. He’s worked as a cycling coach and as the Senior Paralympic Performance Manager at UK Athletics. He was a member of the Paralympics GB Core Staff for the Beijing Games in 2008 and was part of the core team for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Part of the legacy of the 2025 Invictus Games will be the True Patriot Love CIMVHR Research Initiative exploring the role of adaptive sports – like sitting volleyball, sit-skiing, and wheelchair basketball – in the rehabilitation and recovery journey. As someone whose career has focused on developing sports recovery programs for ill and injured Veterans, this is Martin’s happy place and True Patriot Love had a great conversation with him about the healing power of sport – and risk.

One of the 2025 Invictus Games research goals is to “review the potential benefits associated with participating in outdoor sports where the perceived level of risk is high, but the actual risk is low.” How does that work?

Here’s an example: most people would think activities like skeleton, which we’re offering at the 2025 Games, are really high risk: you’re on ice, you’re going head-first, and you can’t see where you’re going. This is an activity that introduces the fight, flight or freeze response.

But in this case, we lower the actual level of risk by having trained coaches, plus briefings so participants know what they’re doing, and supplying safety equipment. So now you’re exposing people to what increases their anxiety, but the risk of harm is closer to zero.

People living with illness, disability or injury often live with anxiety. By introducing them to adaptive sport, they are developing a skillset of managing anxiety while doing these adventurous activities. That becomes a bridge to learn how to manage their everyday anxiety.

Participating in adaptive sport also sparks conversation about how they felt while they were doing it and the strategies they used while they managed their anxiety. Their experience can be used as a platform for future goal setting.

Why is that important?

Positive risk-taking and goal setting help people develop autonomy, which is important when you’re wounded, injured or sick. At the beginning of the medical phase of their rehab, many ill or injured people have a lot of stuff done to them and it’s imposed on them – and at that point, it’s absolutely essential, because they may be undergoing lifesaving, limb-preserving interventions.

Once rehabilitation and recovery start, the role of the clinician is to help you make an informed decision without their bias. But not all clinicians do that, and sometimes individuals are not encouraged to make decisions for themselves because of the clinician’s fear of risk.

Clinicians can have higher perception of risk about modalities like adaptive sports even though there are control measures in place, like specialist equipment and specialist coaches. The individual won’t be exposed to risk beyond their ability, but the clinician may not support their client trying an adaptive sport if the clinician’s only experience of skiing is traditional skiing, rather than an adaptive version such as sit-skiing.

In my experience, the thoughtful clinicians see that there’s a greater good to developing autonomy. The worst case scenario rarely happens and often people know more about themselves than the clinician does.

One potential downside is that participating in sports can be expensive. How can people get over that barrier?

There are lots of sport modalities that are cheap or inexpensive, like swimming and volleyball. We can look at the means that people have and help them design programs that are within their means.

On a local level, some military and Veteran programs have approached civilian disability sports clubs and used the club’s resources and equipment. Sharing resources in that way saves money and also builds community; military members swell the ranks of a club and make it more viable, and military folk often become drivers and other volunteers.

The 2025 Invictus Games will also leave some equipment for local sport programs for people with disabilities, like specialist laser rifles for people with visual impairments; the rifles don’t use live ammunition and emit a sound signal when you’re on target. Donating equipment from the Games is a way of thanking the community and it also benefits the community.

Describe the research aspect of the 2025 Games. What are you hoping to learn?

The True Patriot Love CIMVHR Research Initiative is part of the legacy of the Games that go beyond a sporting event. We want the work to inform future practice in terms of how we develop sports recovery programs.

We’re studying the impact on recovery when doing sports outdoors vs. indoors. If skiing is better than sitting volleyball, then let’s do more of that, but we’re also examining what about it makes it better. The Games give us a chance to test these ideas.

We’ll also study the experiences that the families of competitors have as well as the experiences of competitors. Will engaging the competitor’s family in the Games be more beneficial for them? Post-games, how long did the positive effects of the Games last, and what did participants attribute that to?

We’re using the backdrop of a winter hybrid Games to find activities that are an accelerant to achieve better rehabilitation and recovery outcomes. This is why it’s crucial that we transfer the knowledge gained before and during the Games into improving the efficacy of and access to year round adaptive sports programs embedded within the communities where Veterans live and work.

The Games last a week and many people don’t get to go, but we want them to benefit, too.

The 2025 Games are not your first Invictus experience – what is your history with the Games?

My history with the Invictus Games goes back to 2013 where I was the Team Manager for Team UK at the Warrior Games where we hosted the Duke of Sussex who, at the opening ceremony, announced that the first truly international Games would be held in London the following year.

In addition to being the Team Manager for Team UK at the London Games in 2014 a colleague and I helped the organizing committee to select the sports, draft the schedule and write the first set of rules and categorization scheme, much of which has remained unchanged.

In 2015, I invited the CEO of the Invictus Games Foundation to attend the Allied Winter Sports Camp, organized by Soldier On and supported by True Patriot Love. It was at this camp that Chelsey Walker, the then CEO of Whistler Adaptive, first proposed the idea of a winter Games.

In Orlando 2016 I attended my last Games as the Team Manager but, more importantly, I was a co-supervisor to a PhD student who was investigating the impact of “organizational stressors” on the competitors’ experience of the Games by monitoring cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva samples. This work directly impacted how Team UK planned for future Games by putting in place interventions to reduce the levels of stress experienced by the competitors.

In Toronto 2017 and Sydney 2018 a member of my staff stepped up as Team Manager and I took up the role of Chef de Mission for Team UK.

Just before the pandemic hit, I was made redundant from the UK charity Help for Heroes. I bumped into Nick Booth at a conference in London where he said that True Patriot Love was considering putting in a bid to host a Winter Games and if they did would I like to help? Of course, I said yes. In addition to writing the sports section of the bid book I also agreed to assist with the development of two legacy streams, developing a research proposal specific to the Games and also some educational materials for the Participating Nations so that they would be best prepared for participation in the new winter sports.

We won the Games and my role now is to provide specialist support to both True Patriot Love on the legacy and research work and the local organizing committee on the delivery of the Games. That chance meeting with Nick led me to attending the Games in The Hague and Dusseldorf so I feel extremely fortunate to have been at every Games, in ever more exciting and changing roles, since 2014.