Kevin Nanson doesn’t remember his wedding song. He can’t feel much of his legs and arms and nothing of his feet. Yet the retired Canadian Army sergeant refuses to let these facts limit his life – although the first one did cause a bit of marital friction when he and his wife prepared for their 20th wedding anniversary several years ago.
“I was critically injured in Afghanistan in 2008 when the RG-31 armoured patrol vehicle I was in struck a roadside bomb. This caused my back to be fractured in three places, my face was fractured in nine places, and part of my skull was dislodged. I have severe Traumatic Brain Injury, a progressive central nervous system disorder, post-traumatic headaches, and loss of feeling in my legs, hands, and most of my body,” explains Kevin, a Team Canada – Invictus Games 2017 athlete who will compete in athletics and wheelchair rugby this September at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
Kevin admits to some tough moments post-injury but his pragmatic approach to life has pulled him through.
“It was tough when I realized that I was never going to get better. Never be the man I was. I had to finally accept the fact that I will spend my life in a wheelchair. But that doesn’t mean my life is over… it’s just different. I can still do all that I did before, I just do it differently now,” he says.
Part of Kevin’s successful transformation to a new way of life has been his ability to ask for help, however reluctantly. Soon after he first contacted Soldier On, he was playing sledge hockey, a sport that he continues to enjoy. Soldier On is the Canadian Armed Forces program that supports serving members and veterans to overcome physical or mental health illness or injury through physical activity and sport.
“I really missed the physical side of working in the Army. I missed it the most even though it was my least favourite part of the day back when I was in the Army—I was the fat guy,” he says.
Soldier On continues to be a part of Kevin’s life, providing equipment and coaching in sports beyond sledge hockey and offering the much-needed and appreciated social opportunities for fellowship with ill and injured soldiers.
“I was one of the first to get this type of wheelchair through Soldier On,” explains Kevin during a track practice at Team Canada – Invictus Games 2017’s first training camp in Esquimalt, British Columbia. “It allows me to offset the steering to accommodate the lanes on a track. It gets me out of the house. This chair has allowed me so much more freedom to do more things. Last summer, I participated in some 10 kilometre races. Now, there are the Invictus Games.”
Kevin, a Gibbons, Alberta resident, is one of 90 Canadian athletes heading to the Invictus Games this September 23 to 30 in Toronto, Ontario. Soldier On is managing the team and providing equipment and high-level coaches.
“The Games are allowing me to represent our country again, to put on a uniform and work within a team as part of something bigger—and during the 150th anniversary of our country. There are no words to describe the pride and purpose that goes with that,” he exclaims.
For Kevin, who speaks with ease about his injuries and mental illness, there was one part of the rehabilitation process that was difficult for him.
“The hardest part of the whole thing was making that first move: to show up, to write the email, to make the call. Afterwards, I always think: this is the greatest thing!”
Where Kevin doesn’t struggle was making it up to his wife as they approached their 20th wedding anniversary. “I may not remember our wedding song but look at this,” he says as he points to the fresh tattoo of the name ‘Kimberly’ inked on the muscle along his neck. It’s safe to say that Kevin Nanson has never met a challenge he couldn’t face.
For more information, visit the Team Canada at the Invictus Games – Toronto 2017 website.