SYDNEY -- The 2018 Invictus Games started Oct. 20 and competitors, staff members, family and friends are excited for the fourth iteration of this international competition. With a record 18 allied nations participating, the Invictus Games has grown immensely in popularity and stature since its inaugural event in London in 2014. It has become the pinnacle event for many wounded, ill and injured service members around the world who compete in adaptive sports.

"Being here in Sydney and at the Invictus Games is such a different level," said retired Maj. Christina Truesdale, who is among those competing at the Invictus Games for the first time this year. "The human connection is unreal. Everyone is so friendly and it's all hugs, love and respect for each other."

Truesdale discovered adaptive sports in the fall of 2017 while recovering from a tethered spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia. She has since made huge strides in her adaptive sports journey. After competing at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado this past June and in multiple cycling races, this will be Truesdale's first taste of international competition.

"I've trained with expectations and I hope I win a medal, but I have to remember, I'm here in Sydney at the Invictus Games with so many other awesome athletes. It's a great experience and it's important to live in and enjoy the moment," she added.

Another first time Invictus Games participant is U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick, who recovered at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas after suffering a hip labrum tear and back injuries. She competed at both the 2017 and 2018 DOD Warrior Games and is also excited to have reached the next level, achieving her goal of representing Team USA and checking a visit to Australia off her bucket list.

"It's an honor and privilege to represent my country and compete alongside the different services [instead of against them at Warrior Games]," Kendrick said. "Competing at the Invictus Games is a way for me to show what I've learned and showcase what the coaches have taught me and what I've worked so hard to achieve."

One of the most exciting elements of the Invictus Games, according to both women and many other competitors, is getting to know wounded, ill and injured service members from other countries. "I've been making it a point to meet people from the other teams and learn about them, hear about their countries, experiences, and build bonds with others across the world," Kendrick said.

Truesdale added, "It's interesting to interact with others you know are on a similar journey as you. They may not speak the same language, but we all identify with each other because we've all served and been through something."

For the 500-plus athletes competing in the games, each of them is ready for their opportunity to show the world their unconquered spirit -- but for Kendrick, just having that chance is what it is all about.

"I'm going to love every microsecond of the Invictus Games experience. I've worked hard to get here and whether I win a medal or not, it's already mission accomplished."