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'Heart of Invictus': Halifax man featured in new Netflix series

Darrell Ling (#18) is pictured competing in a wheelchair basketball game during the Invictus Games: The Hague in April 2022. (Courtesy: Netflix) Darrell Ling (#18) is pictured competing in a wheelchair basketball game during the Invictus Games: The Hague in April 2022. (Courtesy: Netflix)
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A new Netflix series chronicles the journey of a Maritime man and five other competitors from across the globe as they train for and compete in last year’s Invictus Games.

The international sporting event was founded in 2014 by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.

Darrell Ling of Halifax competed with Team Canada last April in the Invictus Games, which took place in The Hague following two years of pandemic-related delays.

Ling joined the Navy as a marine electrician, and served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1986 to 1992. He was also involved in recovery efforts following the Swissair Flight 111 disaster in Nova Scotia in 1998 and the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010.

He was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorder in 2016. He’s also experienced homelessness and has struggled with alcoholism.

Through his recovery, Ling became involved with the Soldier On program, which helps serving and retired Canadian Armed Forces members overcome mental and physical illness through sports and physical activity.

Ling applied for the Invictus Games through the program in 2018 and was selected to be a part of Team Canada in May 2019.

"I kind of had to read the email, two, three, four, five times to make sure I was reading it properly,” he said during a recent interview with CTV Atlantic. “And so, when I kind of convinced myself that this was true, I was very excited. I shared my good news with everybody."

Ling went to his first training camp in Quebec four months later to meet other team members. The group went to San Diego for more training at the end of February 2020 and Ling returned home just as the world began its first COVID-19-related lockdown in March.

"We kind of had at least two years of we had to train by ourselves, the gym wasn't open, there were a lot of restrictions, you were very limited to what you could do,” he said. “But we kept the team together."

Ling trained with a rowing machine in his living room and was able to practice archery by himself, though restrictions made it difficult to practice wheelchair basketball with others.

He says it was nerve-wracking getting to the games once they were finally able to go ahead.

“Once we got settled, started meeting other people, other countries, we had a good time."

Darrell Ling of Halifax competed in archery during the Invictus Games: The Hague in April 2022. (Submitted)

While Ling didn't take home any hardware for the three sports he competed in, he says that’s not what the games are about.

"It wasn't all about medals. It was all about competing and doing your best,” he said. “And if you're last, you got the loudest cheer."

The Invictus Games are also about bringing veterans together. Ling says he made many new friends from across Canada and around the world.

"We had everything in common. Veterans always have things in common -- whether you're Canadian, American, British, you always have everything in common, the same struggles."

Ahead of the competition, Ling said he was hoping to get out of his comfort zone and build up his self-confidence. Looking back, he says he wasn’t sure he could do it at first.

"But once the games were getting along, my confidence started to build and I started to get out of my comfort zone, started talking to people," he said.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, is pictured during the opening ceremony for The Invictus Games: The Hague in April 2022. (Courtesy: Netflix)

The opening ceremony was a source of anxiety and potential triggers for Ling -- something that is featured in the fourth episode of “Heart of Invictus” the series.

"A lot of people, a lot of cheering, but it was fun to watch and see and be a part of," he said.

Aside from sports, Ling’s love of woodworking is also shown in the series.

He says he picked up the hobby after starting therapy.

One of Darrell Ling's woodworking projects is pictured. (Submitted)

“I didn't really have a talent until I actually started a woodworking therapy course in Dartmouth called Lake City woodworking,” he said. “They had a program for veterans. So I applied and I got it and it was a 10-week program and they taught us how to make different furniture, different things, so I kind of took that away, back home."

And Ling gifted one of his creations -- a wooden plaque featuring Invictus coins -- to Prince Harry himself.

"He said he's never had a gift like that given to him -- ever. I was shocked. Meeting him was great. He's like a regular person … after a while it's just like talking to somebody down the street."

Ling admits he hasn’t watched any “Heart of Invictus” episodes yet, but has seen himself in the trailer.

“It's hard to see yourself, but I've seen it multiple times, so I'm getting used to seeing myself,” he said. “I'm kind of waiting for another week or so to watch it with my therapist. I’m going to take it slow, do it one (episode) at a time. And just take each one and absorb it."

Darrell Ling (#18) is pictured competing in a wheelchair basketball game during the Invictus Games: The Hague in April 2022. (Submitted)

After the games in The Hague, Ling went to a 10-week in-patient rehab program in Ontario.

“That really helped me, because I've got a lot of tools that I didn’t have -- more tools in my tool box. And when I came back from rehab, I felt better and started doing things that I wanted to do.”

Since rehab, Ling says he’s continued with therapy, his passion for woodworking, and plays on a wheelchair basketball team.

He says sports can be especially helpful for people living with mental illness.

"It takes you out of your head and into your body, so when my anxiety is up, I get on the rower and I just row. And once I finish rowing for 10-15 minutes, I feel better. My anxiety's gone down. So it helps your mental health, with sports. And I do a lot of biking on the trails, so that's another thing that really helps my mental health, biking, being in nature. It really helps."

Ling hopes people who watch the series know help is out there if they need it.

"If you're struggling, seek help. It doesn’t hurt to seek help. And once you get help there's always hope there. Like myself, it's one day at a time. And some people, it might take a few months, or years -- for me, it takes me a long time to get to a point where I'm starting to feel better."

"I just want (people) to watch the show and understand about veterans, or what mental health means. And there's always hope."

“Heart of Invictus” is streaming now on Netflix. 

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