For all the hype and fanfare surrounding the upcoming Invictus Games, the event’s CEO Michael Burns gets the most out of the little things.
Burns told the Star that he was thrilled to hear that Team Afghanistan landed at the airport Thursday morning and were greeted by 200 Canadians of Afghan descent.
“I was told there wasn’t a dry eye in the airport,” he said. “They were overwhelmed by the expression of love and support from their community here.”
Burns took a leave of absence from his job as a vice president at AudienceView, an ecommerce company, to take the lead at the Games.
“To be involved with an international (competition) on your home soil, and to be able to contribute as best I can… it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said.
Burns has never run a sporting event, but he has experience working with military members, as he co-founded the True Patriot Love Foundation, a charity that supports military families, in 2009.
He was inspired to start the foundation after his friend’s son was killed by a roadside explosion in Afghanistan.
“We’ve all been to funerals, but to be at a funeral of a fallen soldier is very different,” he said.
In an effort to support military families, he held a fundraiser with his cofounder Shaun Francis, and they surpassed their $1 million goal, raising over $2 million, which made them realize their work should continue.
To military families, he says: “These games are for you.”
“The solider enlists because that’s what he or she wants to do, and the family is the one that gets conscripted,” Burns said, quoting what he says is a common military phrase.
Burns told the Star he has had several conversations with Prince Harry, the founder of the Invictus Games, before and after Toronto secured the Games about how to “build the legacy he started in 2014.”
“He’s incredibly humble, he’s passionate, and he’s a veteran,” Burns said.
“He understands the unique challenges that military families face, and what war and conflict and service can do to someone both mentally and physically.”
Burns believes that Canadian patriotism will make this year’s games especially memorable.
“One of the things that we always said to the prince is that we’re not interested in delivering you a city, like they did in London and Orlando, we’re going to deliver you a country,” Burns said.
“Given the opportunity to express their gratitude, their support and their love for military families, Canadians show up every time.”