Buddies in battle move forward through sport

Stories from the battlefield are a huge part of the lives of all competitors at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover, and the story of camaraderie between Dutch competitors Luuk Veltink and Marc van de Kuilen is extraordinary.

Team captain van de Kuilen and Veltink, silver medallist in today’s IR3 four-minute endurance indoor rowing event found themselves involved in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in 2008.

Shots fired by Veltink led to the amputation of van de Kuilen’s legs and when the former found this out, he bottled up his shame for many years.

“I was involved in a blue on blue in Afghanistan, and I never told anyone about it,” Veltink said.

“Not my family, not my friends, and I’ve struggled with it for a long time. I (eventually) thought, well, I have to talk to someone about it.”

Veltink, who was injured in a motor vehicle accident, says the power of sport has been instrumental in not only his physical recovery, but in helping him move forward from this life-defining moment.

“Sport has been a major thing in my rehabilitation, and has been really important in my recovery.”

And his siblings Maaik Veltink and Reneé von Amergongen-Veltink , who have come to Sydney all the way from The Netherlands could not agree more.

“The fact that he came all the way (to Australia) and made it til here, it took a lot of effort to make it this far and it makes (competing at Invictus) really special,” his brother said.

“The moment you see his face when he goes all out on the rowing, you can see what he’s been through in the last ten years, from the moment of deployment until now. With his accident, with his injuries, you can see it all come out and this is what he’s here for.”

Showing off her pride in seeing her brother’s journey to winning a medal, von Amergongen-Veltink said, “it makes me so proud that he can achieve this and compete, and actually win the medals.”

“Nobody expected that he could come so far, yet he is here.

“Invictus Games makes it easier to talk about the reason why he is here. It gives a support group for all the friends and family, and for all the competitors to actually share and talk more about what has happened.”

As for van de Kuilen, he and Veltink have already competed together at the sailing event on Sunday, winning bronze in the Elliot 7 team event.

“We had fun. We had our arses handed to us, but we had fun,” van de Kuilen said.

“It’s about 10 years ago that we met in a weird way, and it’s lovely to see him succeed at sailing yesterday together in one ship, and today in rowing to get the silver. It’s amazing.

“We see each other maybe once a month for being friends, and as soon as we both got selected for the Invictus team, we’ll have a whole different experience together.

“I think it’s beautiful that we are doing the same tournament, the same sport event, and seeing each other succeed with each other. It’s lovely.”

Veltink is now placing his focus on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in two years time, in the sport of rowing, and his team captain could not be more thrilled.

“He’s training for the Paralympics in 2020, so maybe we can do more sporty stuff together. It will be fun.”

Ian Mountfield and Sascha Ryner
Invictus Games Sydney 2018