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Through Difficulty to the Stars – An Interview with Team Italy

I volunteered for the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, landing a spot on the content crew. My job? Visit games sites, provide match recaps and snag stories where and when I could.

Some of my work was published on the Invictus Games 2017 website, after thorough review, editing and translation. I have more stories and snippets in my notes. I might share those one day too. It’s all outside my focus on technology and business. But these stories inspire me every day to personally focus on the important things they illustrate about the human spirit.

This piece is especially meaningful. I interviewed people from Team France and Team Italy (rueing the lack of any Spanish-speaking teams – I speak Spanish too) in order to add a more international flavour to the Games website. This is the one article from all my notes that made the cut.

Pellegrina Caputo of Team Italy, yours truly and Marco Menicucci of Team Italy

Pellegrina Caputo is one of 15 members of Team Italy. At the Invictus Games this year, she competed in athletics, in discus and shot put, taking home a silver medal in the women’s IF1/IF2 shot put.

Based in Avellino, Pellegrina began her army career in 2005. In August 2008, she was deployed to Kosovo, and 95 days into a 300-day deployment suffered the loss of her left leg. After about a year of rehabilitation, she started learning to walk again and got her second prosthetic leg in November 2010.

A few years later, she returned to service in Avellino, initially in an office. That’s where she learned about and signed up for the Gruppo Sportivo Paralimpico della Difesa (GSPD), the Defence Forces Paralympic Sports Group in Italy.

The GSPD, a joint effort between Italy’s Ministry of Defence and Paralympic Committee, consists of athletes from all four branches of the Italian military: army, navy, air force and police (carabinieri). The group, created on December 22, 2014, features an Invictus-like motto: “Per Aspera ad Astra” — Through difficulty to the stars.

“When we started our Paralympic sports group, Prince Harry invited us to Invictus,” says Loreto Di Loreto. “When we participated in London in 2014, there were 15 of us on the Italian team. We brought home eight medals — not bad for 15 competitors,” he smiles, noting they were one of the smaller teams facing larger contingents from the US and UK.

“At 29 years of age, I started to play sports,” Pellegrina said, noting that she competed in track and field, shot put and discus. “I try a little of everything in athletics.”

Pellegrina is competing in her second Invictus Games. “Last year, I won the gold for shot put. This year, I got silver.” She has also participated in the 2015 World Military Games in Mungyeong, South Korea, where she added another silver medal — in shot put.

Three years on, the group has sent athletes to multiple competitions, including all three Invictus Games. Every Italian athlete competing in Toronto is a member of the GSPD, including Massimo Chiappetta, who lost both legs in a motorcycle accident. He explains the GSPD mission. “My thoughts are with anybody who suffers a disability…they wake up in a bed in total despair. They see themselves as different, and they can never be the same as they were before. I went through this. But we have a new chance at life, which is not necessarily worse than the old one. I do many things now without my legs that I didn’t do when I had legs.”

Sports mean more to Pellegrina than competition. She says she accepted the reality of her condition right away. But there were other steps in the journey of acceptance. “My last step was to go to the beach without my prosthetic leg,” she says. “The second-last step was to walk on the street calmly, as though nobody was looking at me.”

“I’ve left the incident behind,” says Marco Menicucci, who suffered permanent damage to his right arm during deployment. “Until recently, I used to keep my hand in my pocket. Now, I don’t.”

“It wasn’t easy to get here,” Pellegrina admits. “But Invictus in Orlando helped me get here, helping me take the final steps, the ones I found most difficult. I came back from the United States a new person.”

This article originally published on the Invictus Games 2017 website.