Warrior Games chance to get back out and live life
Four members of the Edmonton military community are headed down to Tampa Bay, Fla. to take part in the 2019 Warrior Games, part of a contingent of 36 from across Canada.
The Warrior Games are similar to, and the inspiration for the Invictus Games, which were first held in London, United Kingdom in 2014 and are next scheduled for The Hague, Netherlands in 2020.
Corporal (Retired) Natalie Champagne, Military Police Master Corporal Debbie Dufour, Corporal Nick Kerr and Sergeant (Retired) Ernest “Daryl” Sagar were all selected to participate in the Games, which take place from June 21 to 30, 2019. They left for Florida on June 17.
Cpl (Retd) Champagne from Sudbury, Ontario is a 12-year veteran who served as an Aerospace Control Operator before she was medically released from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2012. She will be competing in shooting, archery, sitting volleyball and golf.
MCpl Dufour has 31 years of service, five international deployments, and currently serves at the Canadian Forces Service Prison and Detention Barracks. She lives in Sherwood Park, Alberta and will be competing in indoor rowing, wheelchair rugby and track.
Currently serving as an Infanteer, Cpl Kerr from Edmonton, Alberta has had many domestic and international deployments in his long career as both a Regular and Reserve Force member. He will be competing in swimming, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, and golf.
Born in Invermere, British Columbia, Sgt (Retd) Sagar joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1988 as a gunner in the artillery, but spent most of his 24 years with the Canadian Army as a medic. Over the course of his career, Daryl deployed to Bosnia in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2008.
For all four Edmonton representatives, the chance to participate in the Games is both an honour and a life-changing experience.
“It was the catalyst that is getting me to positively go in the right direction of becoming more active in society,” Sgt (Retd) Sagar explained.
Sgt (Retd) Sagar was medically released from the military, and that event took away from him a family and environment where he had felt welcome and comfortable. When he was selected to be on the Warrior Games team, it was like a switch had been flipped.
“That was the start of a positive journey to come out from behind my proverbial wall or my proverbial bubble I’ve always been in,” he said.
Cpl (Retd) Champagne also felt a sense of instant camaraderie and community when she arrived at the training camp in Victoria, B.C. Everyone there was trying to get to know each other, but at the same time that sense of family simply sprung up.
Cpl (Retd) Champagne’s life and experience living with the repercussions of injuries suffered in the line of duty has some clear markers, especially for her children. Her eldest knew and experienced a mom before her injuries, while her younger children got a different mom – one who was angry, who didn’t trust people, and who was living with pain.
“All of that went away probably within 20 minutes of meeting these fabulous people [at the Warrior Games training camp],” she said.
MCpl Dufour was struck with how a room full of 40 people from across Canada came together so quickly.
“Within 20 minutes you’re thinking you’ve known these people for years,” she said.
MCpl Dufour’s military experience saw her injured to the point where for about four years she was severely physically limited.
“I was living a broken life,” she said.
But through getting connected to the Soldier On program—a Canadian Armed Forces program supporting both serving members and veterans in overcoming their physical injuries and mental illnesses through physical activity and sport—and being chosen for the Warrior Games, she’s seen a massive turnaround in her quality of life.
“It’s taken me out of my shell, and I’ve been able to go out and start exercising again and socializing and just getting back out there,” she said.
MCpl Dufour said she expects her “biggest breakthrough” will come when she arrives in Tampa Bay with all the other Warrior Games athletes.
Cpl Kerr views being involved with the Warrior Games, both personally and for others, as a means of rediscovering a purpose and a mission in life.
Speaking about military members who have been released, he said it can be difficult waking up that first morning and no longer being in the service.
“You don’t have that mission, you don’t have that drive, you don’t have that family like you did in the military,” he said.
But getting involved in the Warrior Games or the Invictus Games gives those people something they’ve lost.
“They find a purpose and a mission and something they’re putting in their daily routines,” Cpl Kerr said.
Although the Warrior Games are an athletic competition, the results don’t really matter, MCpl Dufour said. Instead, the Games are more about the camaraderie and being active and getting back out into society.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s going to be one person that [the Warrior Games haven’t] helped,” she said.
That said, there is obviously some pride on the line when you’re competing against other countries. For Cpl Kerr, he said he’s anticipating emotions to be up and down during the Games as the results roll in.
“I know it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster, especially if any of us win some medals,” he said. “We’re going to be on the podium with the anthem being played.”
However, despite the results, being able to compete at the Warrior Games and benefiting from the experience is something all the participants will get to claim as a major part of their lives.
“Nobody can take this away from us now,” Sgt (Retd) Sagar said. “It’s ours and we’re going to own it.”
Cpl (Retd) Champagne added being part of the Warrior Games brings with it a sense of honour similar to what she experienced while in the military.
“We’re going to make Canada as proud as we were to serve,” she said.
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