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Local athletes shine at 2017 Invictus Games

By Celina Ip

Three athletes from CFB Garrison Petawawa proudly represented Team Canada at the 2017 Invictus Games held in Toronto last month.

 

Founded in 2014 by Prince Harry, the Invictus Games is an international paralympic-style sporting competition for wounded, ill and injured armed forces members and veterans. From Sept. 23 to 30, the event saw 550 athletes from 17 nations – throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania – compete in 12 adaptive sports.

Among the 89 competitors on Team Canada, Garrison Petawawa proudly cheered on retired master corporal Mike Trauner, retired sergeant Daniel Graham and Sgt. Brenda McPeak.

Trauner was injured in 2008 when a remotely detonated improvised explosive device, or IED, hit his foot patrol in the Zhari District of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The blast shot the soldier metres in the air. He had to be resuscitated twice, once at the scene of the explosion and again while on the operating table at Kandahar Air Field. The explosion robbed him of his left leg above the knee and his right leg below the knee. His left arm and hand suffered multiple fractures.

A doctor advised the soldier he could, at best, be able to walk 500 metres at a time using two canes. Refusing to accepting that diagnosis, Trauner drove himself to walk again during his rehabilitation.

Following his period of recovery, it was last year that Trauner met Prince Harry at the launch for the Toronto Invictus Games. After hearing Trauner’s powerful story of overcoming adversity, the young prince personally challenged the retired infantryman to compete in the Games. Trauner, who had already been training in indoor rowing and cycling for a few years, eagerly accepted that challenge.

“I’m stuck in my house on a daily basis,” said Trauner, a veteran infantry soldier who formerly served with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR). “I want to be part of a team again, like I was when I was back in battalion. I want to continue to represent my country and inspire other ill and injured service members to realize that anything is possible.”

After three deployments overseas, Graham returned home with a debilitating case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which led him to retire from the military at an early age. It wasn’t too long until Graham developed an interest in golf and it swiftly became a healthy outlet to provide him with relief from the effects of PTSD.

“Golf is the one sport that allows me to feel calm. I never really played growing up, but now it’s the only place where I don’t think about anything else in my life,” said Graham, who formerly served with the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (1 RCR). “When I’m out on the course, my head is quiet and I can relax.”

Back in 2011 while she was posted to Gander, NF, McPeak suffered a severe injury that left her with four bulging discs and degenerative disc disease. McPeak remains in active duty with 2 Service Battalion but due to her injury she has a permanent category which poses slight limits on her duties. Through support from Soldier On, McPeak began engaging in sports to provide her with mental and physical relief, which prompted her to compete at this year’s Invictus Games.

“Soldier On has been there for me from the start. The organization has gotten me back into sport and shown me my true potential. I’ve tried many new things that I never, ever imagined trying before,” said McPeak.

For several months leading up to the Games, the three athletes engaged in extensive fitness training to ensure their were in peak shape physical shape and mentally prepared for the elite sporting event.

Trauner competed in indoor rowing and handcycling, Graham competed in golf, while McPeak competed in athletics, rowing and indoor volleyball.

Throughout the week, all of the participating nations mingled together, shared athletic advice, exchanged military tales and formed lasting friendships.

“Everybody had a commonality for being there at the games, so we all jived and even if you spoke a different language everybody understood right away. At a competitive event like the Olympics you’ll notice that people wont speak to one another and wont share training strategies, but the French team at Invictus was the strongest in cycling and they were willing to talk to me afterwards and share some training advice with me,” said Trauner. “We're all still part of the same team even if we're from different countries, we're all a part of the military team and all connected in that way.”

McPeak expressed that even though they were all from different nations, there was a strong sense of camaraderie as they all connected to one another through their familial military bond.

“We're all connected because we all had some type of military experience,” said McPeak. “I made a goal on the first day that rather than sitting with Team Canada for meals, I would sit with a different nation for every meal and as many as I could.”

By the end of the week, the intense competition saw Trauner win Gold in rowing, Graham earned Bronze in golf and McPeak placed fifth in the 1500 metre.

Since accepting Prince Harry’s challenge to partake in the Games and then ending up with Gold, Trauner expressed that it was a very touching and humbling moment when the prince placed the medal around his neck and expressed the immense pride he was feeling for Trauner and all of the other brave athletes.

“Prince Harry came over to me and Mark Ormrod from the UK who had earned Silver. He was very proud that we had done so well as we were the two guys who were kind of underdogs but who went into this and he got to see us fulfill our goals of making it to the Games and competing for our countries,” said Trauner. “He said to us later ‘I feel like a proud father. These young soldiers here competing and my dream coming true of giving you guys the Invictus Games’.”

Despite the glory of medalling, Trauner expressed that the competition was less about winning and more about the experience itself and the symbolic nature of the Games.

“Through Invictus Games we show everyone that ‘yes you can do it’, so there's no excuses for anybody and you just have to find a way to do it,” said Trauner.

Once the competition came to a close and the participants exchanged farewells, Graham expressed that went back home with fond memories, new friendships and an experience to last a lifetime.

“It was an unreal experience and one of the biggest highlights was meeting competitors from other countries and talking to them. I made one really close friend from the UK who I’m actually going to visit in the new year and vice versa he's going to come here,” said Graham.

McPeak added that while the Games had ended, the journey afterwards is what’s really important.

“We’re continuing our journey of creating awareness and educating people about organizations like Soldier On that are geared towards helping ill or injured military members – whether serving or retired – get active and get the support they need,” said McPeak.

cip@postmedia.com