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INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL BURNS: CEO
BY GEORGINA BENCSIK & ROSS ULYSSES MUNROE
What was the inspiration for your role as CEO of the Invictus Games Toronto 2017?
It goes back some time ago. I was involved with the original bid, which was done by the True Patriot Love Foundation and which I co-founded back in 2009. Essentially two years ago we secured the games and were notified we’d be hosting the games in 2017 and I was asked at the time, given my participation in securing the games, as well as what I have done for close to a decade in the philanthropic space for military families, if I would be interested in helping to deliver these games in September of 2017.
What in your personal experience led you to become so committed to this cause?
It goes back almost 10 years ago in July 2007, when a friend of mine’s son was killed in Afghanistan, along with 5 other Canadian service members and an Afghan interpreter. I remember I was actually in Calgary on business at the time; I had an early phone call and I knew that Peter Dawes’ son, Matthew, had been deployed to Afghanistan. When a colleague of mine called me to say he saw Peter and his wife on the news, I knew that something had happened to Matthew. I made my way back to Toronto and I drove to Kingston. Of course we’ve all been to funerals, but the funeral for a fallen soldier and witnessing the impact that has on their family and friends is pretty moving.
What do you hope to establish with the Invictus Games Toronto 2017?
You know these are historic games; these are games that are going to inspire people, motivate them to do more than what they perhaps have done in the past to support military families. These games are an opportunity to share the stories of our military service men and women, veterans and their families, in a way we have never done before. But I think this is all part of a long term strategy to engage, inspire, and ensure that our military families are never forgotten and that they get the care and the services they need to do their jobs.
What is your vision for the future of such world-class Games in Toronto?
We obviously are building off the legacy of London and Orlando, but I think people are going to see a lot of differences between our games and the two previous games. Our view has always been that we’re not just out to bring adaptive sport to the competition. We are really delivering what I would describe as a holistic experience with these games. That they aren’t just focused on the power of adaptive sport but are also going to touch on other elements of a soldier or a veteran and their family’s lives.
For example we have partnered with a half a dozen major international conferences that will be going on during the games. One in particular will bring close to a thousand researchers, academics, clinicians and others whose primary work is to promote the physical and mental health of our military veterans and their families. The very people who are coming up with the latest new drugs or therapies for advances in prosthetic technology will be in Toronto to share those and see that they’re making an impact on the lives of military families.
We have plans to host an all-faith celebration on the eve of the games. We know that our military and militaries around the world have always been connected with many different faiths. We’ve lost many clergy; have had priests on many battlefields delivering last rights. We have a full cultural program that speaks to how art and culture have always been connected to our military and its service to our country for over 150 years. We’ve engaged millions of youth through WE Day and with the Rick Hansen Foundation. We’re in more than 10,000 schools right now with our curriculum.
In what ways do you foresee how the Invictus Games can provide inspiration for everyday Canadians?
These games are a give and take situation. You have competitors, who months earlier were struggling just to get out of bed, and who are having challenges at home, or at work with their friends and family or are trying to find meaningful employment. When they join Team Canada and they’re on the playing field in front of thousands of spectators, the recognition alone has such an impact on their self esteem, on their confidence and on their whole outlook on life. At the same time, as spectators going and watching these men and women compete, or tuning in online or on television, hearing and reading about their stories, we as Canadians are going to be inspired.
For more information visit InvictusGames.com.