Soldier On sailor sets course for tranquility

Warrant Officer (retired) Darcy Eggleston
Warrant Officer (retired) Darcy Eggleston. Photo: The Lookout

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Peter Mallett – The Lookout

Despite spending 22 years in the Canadian Army, Warrant Officer (retired) Darcy Eggleston is proving he’s as at home on the water as any seasoned sailor.

The former military policeman has spent much of the past four years on the water to help manage posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms he suffers following events he witnessed during missions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Eggleston has stepped up his water therapy another notch. He and three other members of the Soldier On Program were part of Her Majesty’s Sail Training Vessel Goldcrest’s racing team for the Swiftsure Yacht Race, which kicked off at the Causeway Docks of Victoria’s Inner Harbour on May 26.

Soldier On, a Joint-Personnel Support Unit-run program, provides athletic and recreational opportunities for ill and injured serving and retired personnel to assist in their recovery.

“The therapy for me is getting out on the water and the open ocean with its rolling waves. It has a calming effect on me,” said Eggleston who now works as the Vancouver Island Superintendent with the B.C. Sherriff Service.

Eggleston, 58, was diagnosed with PTSD two years ago. He is convinced that introducing sailing into his life will help him continue to plot a course to better health.

“Even before I had been officially diagnosed, I found that being out on the water calmed me and gave me a better sense of trust from,” he said.

Eggleston now has a bright outlook on life, but before he found ways to manage his PTSD symptoms, there were many dark days.

After his departure from the military in 2001, he says his PTSD symptoms began to heighten. He suffered from rising anxiety levels, weight gain, sleep loss and excessive drinking. In 2015, things got so bad for a while that he even walked away from dragon boat paddling, which had been a central activity in his life.

“I knew there was something wrong and it was affecting my daily life,” he said. The symptoms, he says, stem from multiple traumatic events he witnessed. One tragic event in Syria stands out, he says.

Eggleston was in close proximity to a car bomb explosion while posted to the Canadian Embassy in Damascus between 1995 and 1999.

In the days and months following that deployment to Syria, Eggleston could feel something was wrong, but his commanding officers were unaware of his health problems.

“When the military asked me if I wanted to take part in a peacekeeping mission, I left the organization while I was at the top of my profession,” says Eggleston.

In 2016, he sought the help of a therapist. He decided that dragon boat paddling was the perfect medicine for him, and got back on the water shortly after. He then learned about the Soldier On program in 2017.

He was selected as a member of the Goldcrest Swiftsure team, and had the opportunity to learn about sailing for the first time.

“It’s a new challenge for me. I’ve done sky diving, scuba diving, and for me sports are all part of an adrenaline rush,” he said. “Taking part in sports like these relieves my anxiety and gives me a sense of control over things.”

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