Edwin Vermetten hadn’t known his tennis partner, Paul Guest, for long. But when the two took to the court at the Invictus Games, Vermetten was able to tell something was wrong with Guest, a veteran with PTSD. And then, Vermetten stepped in to help calm the former soldier.
For Guest, joining the military was a family tradition. His father served in the United Kingdom’s Royal Artillery, while his mother joined the Women’s Land Army. But Guest’s own naval career concluded unexpectedly after a difficult injury.
In 1987 Guest hurt both his spine and neck while on active duty. The resulting injuries left him partially deaf and visually impaired. The veteran needed help through his daily tasks, including getting dressed and washing himself.
Doctors noted that Guest was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, too. PTSD can affect soldiers who witness their comrades getting hurt or dying. It can also appear in those who experience life-threatening injuries themselves.
Guest’s PTSD left him depressed to the point where he attempted suicide. “I went from being a pillar of my community, by serving my country and being the head of my family by supporting them all, to feeling absolutely worthless in the blink of an eye,” he later told Help For Heroes.
But Guest’s wife Michelle didn’t give up on him. And neither, for that matter, did the Help For Heroes organization, which lends support to wounded soldiers. Then, he became involved with the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for veterans founded by Prince Harry.
All of this meant a great deal to Guest. “The Invictus Games has given me something to aim for,” he told Help For Heroes. “Pulling on the uniform is like pulling on my Navy uniform. I feel part of a team again, like I belong. I’m proud to be representing my country once again.”
In October of 2018 Guest headed to the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia, ready to serve the United Kingdom in a new way. Once there, he participated in the doubles tennis event with Edwin Vermetten.
The 2018 event marked Vermetten’s third time participating in the Invictus Games. Hailing from the Netherlands, he and Guest didn’t meet until only hours before first teaming up for the tennis event.
According to Guest, though, the tennis-playing duo connected right away. “It was like I had known him all my life. He is just one of those guys that you bond with straight away,” he said. On top of that, Vermetten was “an inspiration on [the] court” to Guest.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though, Vermetten would help Guest through an unexpected hardship while the two played. During their tennis match, a helicopter flew overhead. And the noise it made triggered Guest’s PTSD.
“I get all hot, I still feel the burning. I can feel everything and smell everything. That very split second, it all comes back in my head,” Guest said, describing his PTSD. Fortunately, Vermetten recognized right away that his partner could use his help.
“[Guest] made some movements with his head and I immediately noticed he needed some care,” Vermetten recalled. “I said, ‘Look in my eyes, look in my eyes.’ And he did.”
From there, Vermetten’s tactic to assuage Guest’s fear was unorthodox, to say the least. “I said, ‘You know the Frozen song, “Let It Go”?’ He was looking at me really surprised and I said, ‘Let’s sing together,’” Vermetten revealed.
With that, Vermetten said, “He let it go. It was really amazing.” Guest agreed, saying, “We were singing it together just taking my mind off it, talking rubbish in my ears, and that’s what it is all about it.”
Guest was then able to return to the game, which he and Vermetten went on to win. And the next day, a very special song to played during their next match. It was, of course, “Let It Go” once again.
The song powered Guest through that match and onward. Eventually, he and Vermetten had their hands – and, playfully, their teeth – on an Invictus Games silver medal for doubles tennis.
For Guest, though, it wasn’t about snagging the silver. “It doesn’t matter where I come,” he said after one match. “I haven’t set my heart on anything, the only thing that matters is as long as I have done better than yesterday, I have won.”
Guest’s wife, Michelle, reiterated how much the sense of purpose provided by the contest meant to her husband. “There was a point where he just wouldn’t come out of the bedroom, let alone the house. I am really pleased, so pleased,” she said.
Guest, too, recognized that he had found his place through his Invictus teammates. And he hoped to do the same for others. “These guys don’t see disabilities,” he concluded. “They just make [me] feel welcome all the time.”