Olympic gold medalists, NFL star surprise Invictus athletes

By Audrea Huff, Senior Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Sunday, May 08, 2016, 1:46 PM EDT

A pair of Olympic gold medalists and a former NFL star from Central Florida surprised Invictus Games athletes with a special visit Sunday morning to inspire, motivate and offer advice to competitors.

  • Ian Thorpe, Max Starks, Shawn Johnson are Invictus Games Celebrity Ambassadors
  • Famous athletes surprised Invictus competitors with a meet-and-greet

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, a five-time gold medalist; U.S. balance beam gold medalist Shawn Johnson; and Max Starks, an Orlando Lake Highland Prep and University of Florida alumnus, met with athletes as Invictus Celebrity Ambassadors for more than a hour, shaking hands to beaming competitors, answering questions and passing down some of their knowledge as world-class athletes.

Thorpe first greeted Oviedo's Mike Roggio, a former Navy rescue swimmer whom doctors once told might not ever be able to walk again after a neck injury.

Thorpe, who has broken 22 world records, then chatted with and offered swimming advice to Roggio and members of Australia's swim team, including how the four-time World Swimmer of the Year still feels nerves when stepping onto the blocks.

"He gave extremely good advice. It was kind of surreal to hear him bring up that he experiences the same things I do, like anxiety. He said that anxiety is part of it, and he uses it to his advantage in competition," Roggio said.

"It's inspiring. It's so cool that he's coming out here to support all these other guys who are overcoming extreme obstacles or whatever adversity they have," Roggio said.

Roggio will represent the U.S. in the swimming finals Wednesday.

The Invictus Games are a Paralympics-style competition for wounded and ill active-duty military and veterans founded in 2014 by Prince Harry. About 500 competitors hail from 14 countries.

The games' opening ceremonies, which will feature Prince Harry, first lady Michelle Obama and musical performances by James Blunt and several military bands and drill teams, take place at 8 tonight at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex's Champion Stadium.