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Army March 28, 2013
Wounded soldiers join forces to tackle the slopes of the Canadian Rockies for personal recovery
Canadian Capt Rae Joseph
WOUNDED and injured soldiers
and veterans from around the globe
gathered in Whistler, Canada, this
month for the inaugural Soldier On
Canadian Paralympic Committee
(CPC) Allied Winter Sports Camp,
including four Australian soldiers
and members from the UK, US
The program was founded
in 2006 to empower retired and
serving members with an injury
to accept their "new normal" by
adopting an active lifestyle through
participation in physical, recreation-
al or sporting activities.
This year's event saw an
increase involvement from the CPC,
giving the camp a more comprehen-
sive experience for the participants
in sports including alpine skiing
and snowboarding, Nordic skiing/
biathlon, curling and sledge hockey
plus uniquely Canadian recreational
Canadian WO Dan Connor said,
it was "nice to have a Canadian
flair that soldiers from Australia,
the UK and US would not neces-
sarily have the opportunity to see".
That goal was surpassed: the camp
also included an introduction to tra-
ditional Canadian winter activities
such as dog sledding and snowmo-
Capt Christopher Isles said the
Aussies enjoyed meeting the other
participants as well as trying new
sports and pushing themselves
physically and mentally.
"This opportunity provided a
unique environment to allow a form
of physical and social rehabilita-
tion -- a third layer of rehabilita-
tion -- that enhanced our individual
countries' rehabilitation programs,"
The 40 representatives from the
individual nations were divided into
four teams: Haida, Algonquin, Inuit
and Ojibwa, in honour of the area's
Canadian Aboriginal roots. The first
few days were designed as train-
ing and introduction to the sports
because for some this was the first
exposure to sports played on snow
To wrap up the week there was
to be a nation-against-nation com-
petition. However, days into the
Allied Winter Sports Camp partici-
pants unanimously decided to com-
pete as their allied teams. Canadian
Lt Ashaila Ouellet from Petawawa
said the week was "incredible".
"It's been therapeutic to be
around like-minded people in
a safe environment. We relied on
each other for support. We had the
opportunity to share new experienc-
es and learn that we are not alone in
our recovery/rehabilitation journey,"
Many of the members involved,
including US Marine Corps Staff
Sgt Jeremy Mendiaz, credited the
event with helping them to over-
come challenges and open doors to
other life opportunities.
"It's been amazing help for my
recovery through the camaraderie
we build and the distraction it pro-
vides," he said. "Everything, includ-
ing sports, is adaptable no matter
what your injury is -- [you] just
don't even notice it."
The closing ceremonies were
held at the Whistler Hilton on
March 7 and saw teams Ojibwa and
Haida tied for gold, Algonquin cap-
turing the silver and Inuit heading
home with bronze.
For more on the Canadian Soldier On
program go to www.SoldierOn.ca or join
the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/
Fast paced: Cpl James Bromley speeds down the Whistler slopes. Inset top, Capt Christopher Isles gets some
snowboarding tips. Inset bottom, Sgt Adam Fowles readies for a hit on the ice.
Photos by Capt Rae Joseph, Cpl Christine Leger and Matt Murnaghan
Canadian Capt Rae Joseph
AS I stood atop Whistler Mountain
watching the participants of the
inaugural Soldier On Canadian
Paralympic Committee (CPC)
Allied Winter Sports Camp, I
couldn't help but be inspired.
The soldiers, sailors, airmen and
air women participating in the 10-day
event came from different walks of
life, but they all had one common
bond -- they're broken. Not my word,
but many of theirs. It didn't take
long to realise though that they had
another common thread: a shared per-
severance to go on, to not waste the
life spared by others' sacrifices.
This was vivid as I chatted with
Sgt Craig Hansen, of 7RAR, on the
slopes. He had no regret. No 'Why
me?' In fact, Sgt Hansen was glad the
IED blast he was injured in hadn't
happened to a young soldier just start-
ing out in their career.
"I have had a good career. I was
set up," he said, adding, "it was a shit
sandwich for sure, but I am glad it
was me and not one of our younger
In November 2008, the vehicle he
was riding in struck an IED outside
Uruzgan. It smashed his heels and
ankles, gave him an open radius frac-
ture, broke his right hand and caused
a traumatic brain injury.
Australian soldiers inspire
Canadian troops in the snow
He was two months into his
nine-month tour when the explosion
occurred. It was some time before Sgt
Hansen could recall the events.
"I was picking up bits and pieces
along the way ... It wasn't until 18
months after that the nightmares hit,"
he shared with me, turning to look out
the window in his room.
"Smells, tastes and sounds just
came pouring back."
Not to mention the months and
months of surgeries, intertwined with
rehabilitation through physiotherapy
he endured to walk again.
"I was the Platoon Sergeant, I had
to survive for my men," he said, "I
just had to."
To help him get through the "bad"
days he said he used humour and still
continues to see the fun, funny and
good in everything and everyone.
The blast Sgt Hansen, and the
other men with him, survived was the
biggest the battalion had seen to that
"I guess my time wasn't up and I
plan on making the most of my life,"
Sgt Hansen said it was trips like
the Soldier On camp that breathed
new life into his recovery and pend-
ing transition from the RAR.
"It gives you a bit of a spring-
board to get into other activities and
not dwell on what you can't do.
"There are always people worse
off than you and you watch them
push on and challenge themselves. It
definitely teaches you not to take life
Sharp shooter: Sgt Craig Hansen.
Photo by Capt Rae Joseph
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