COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Escorted by Britain’s Prince Harry and swimming superstar Missy Franklin, a U.S. Navy officer blinded by an improvised bomb in Afghanistan lit an Olympic-style cauldron Saturday to launch the Warrior Games for wounded service members.
Lt. Bradley Snyder, Harry and Franklin completed the last leg of a brief torch relay at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to formally start the games.
All three lifted the torch to the lip of the cauldron to ignite the flame.
It was a touching start to the Paralympic-style games, which run through Thursday. About 260 athletes are competing in basketball, volleyball, shooting, archery, track and field and swimming — Snyder’s sport.
Britain sent a 35-member team, and the prince met with the athletes earlier in the day. He also sat on a gymnasium floor in a circle of 12 sitting volleyball players, batting the ball around amid whoops and laughter.
Harry served as a combat helicopter in pilot in Afghanistan, and the British veterans said that makes him easy to talk to.
“He knows what it’s like out there,” said Army Capt. Dave Henson, a member of the volleyball team. “He’s been on the ground and in the air.”
Henson, 28, lost both legs when an improvised bomb exploded in Afghanistan two years ago. He said Harry took a personal interest in the athletes’ recovery and the quality of their health care.
Royal Marine Matthew Hancox, 25, said the prince recognized some wounded veterans he had met before and asked them how they were recovering.
“He’s very down-to-earth,” said Hancox, who was shot in the chest in Afghanistan in 2011.
The prince on Saturday afternoon pulled a Union Jack jersey over his uniform and joined the British team in a raucous exhibition game of sitting volleyball against U.S. players. That delighted the audience of several hundred and prompted a string of teasing taunts from the arena announcer.
The visit to Colorado got underway Friday night when Harry charmed dozens of dignitaries, British expatriates, students and military officers at a cocktail party welcoming him to Colorado. He also joined the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Franklin, a Coloradan who was celebrating turning 18 at a golf club south of Denver.
She won four gold medals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
A captain in Britain’s Army Air Corps, Harry has deployed to Afghanistan twice, and he wore a brown camouflage uniform and tan combat boots when he met with the British team.
His first deployment, as a forward air controller in 2007-2008, was cut short after 10 weeks when details of his whereabouts were disclosed in the media.
On his second deployment, he was a co-pilot and gunner on an Apache helicopter.
He acknowledged to reporters he had targeted Taliban fighters, and when asked if he had killed anyone, said, “Yeah, so, lots of people have.”
He’s attending the Colorado games because he believes the wounded deserve recognition, according to a statement from St. James’ Palace in London, the official residence of the royal family.
“He seemed very interested in what stage we are all in in terms of our rehabilitation,” said Erica Vey, a veteran of the British Air Force.
Vey, who competes in track and field and shooting, had a leg amputated after an injury she suffered when a cargo plane had to take sudden evasive action.
“He was quite easy to talk to,” she said of the prince.
Harry caused a scandal on his last trip to the U.S. when he was photographed frolicking nude with an unidentified woman in a Las Vegas hotel suite in August.
“It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince,” he said afterward.