MCpl (Ret’d) Trauner competed in handcycling and indoor rowing at the Invictus Games; he earned two gold medals in rowing. (Submitted photo)
Sergeant (Ret’d) Daniel Graham found that golf helped him cope with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He took home a bronze medal in the sport at the Invictus Games. (Submitted photo)
Master Corporal (Ret’d) Mike Trauner, Sergeant Brenda McPeak and Sergeant (Ret’d) Daniel Graham were inspirational as they competed in the Invictus Games, held in Toronto from Sept. 23 to Sept. 30. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
Sergeant Brenda McPeak participated in many different sports while in Toronto, including athletics, rowing and sledge hockey. She earned a fifth place finish in the 1,500 metre. (Submitted photo)
Invictus athletes “great ambassadors for our military and our nation”
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017
The Invictus Games shone a spotlight on ill and injured soldiers, giving them a platform to compete.
Three former and current Petawawa-based soldiers took part in the games, held this year in Toronto and featuring athletes from 17 nations.
While they placed very well on the scoreboard, medals did not necessarily matter - their participation was more a testament to themselves and to others that their injuries do not define them; that they refused to back down, despite all odds. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of our local athletes and all the athletes who participated in the 2017 Invictus Games,” said 4th Canadian Division Support Group Commander Colonel Louis Lapointe. “They continue to wear the flag proudly and are great ambassadors for our military and our nation.”
Pembroke resident Master Corporal (Ret’d) Mike Trauner, formerly of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR), was catastrophically injured by an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan in 2008. He lost both of his lower legs, broke his arm in three places, his hand in 25 places, took shrapnel in the eyes, sustained hearing damage, and received a Traumatic Brain Injury. He had to be recuscitated twice, once at the scene and again on the operating table. He rowed his way to two gold medals at Invictus and placed sixth in handcycling.
Sergeant Brenda McPeak was injured in 2011 when she was posted to Gander, Newfoundland. It left her with four bulging discs in her back and degenerative disc disease. Though there are some limitations to what she can do, she is still serving with 2 Service Battalion. Her first Invictus Games, she competed in athletics, rowing and sledge hockey and did well overall, including a fifth place finish in the Women’s 1,500 metre.
Sergeant (Ret’d) Daniel Graham was a member of 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1 RCR) before he released. Three tours in four and a half years as well as multiple personal tragedies resulted in a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To help keep himself centred, Graham took up golf. It has turned into a passion and his skills awarded him a bronze medal at the games. “You need something to keep you focused,” he said. “I may struggle, it may be hard but I won’t walk away.”
Trauner, in particular, loves inspiring people, regardless of their level of injury. “Through the Invictus Games, we show them that they can do it,” he said. “There is no excuse for anybody.”
All three also have nothing but praise for organizations like Soldier On, True Patriot Love and Renos for Heroes. They act as stepping-stones that bridge the gaps when a member is injured. “It gets people active and out learning how to adapt to their injuries,” said Sgt McPeak.
Soldier On, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) program that supports serving military members and Veterans to overcome their physical or mental health illness or injury through physical activity and sport, is the organization behind Team Canada – Invictus Games 2017. “Mike was literally in the trauma ward when Soldier On came in and introduced themselves,” said Trauner’s wife and Invictus Games Committee member Leah Cuffe. “We had literally been back from Germany for maybe two weeks.”
The Invictus Games has given all three local athletes purpose and drive. “When you join the infantry, it is a brotherhood,” said Graham. “You are part of a team, part of a bigger machine. You have a sense of purpose whether it is the smallest or the biggest job. They all matter.” That can often be stripped away when personnel are injured and subsequently released. But events like Invictus allow them to regain that meaning, he added.
The Sept. 23 to 30 competition not only allowed the three to meet and build a really strong friendship, it was also an opportunity for them to meet athletes from around the world. “We all (connected) right away even though we spoke different languages,” said Trauner. “Even if you are from a different country, they were all willing to help you.”
Unlike some of the other nations, Canada didn’t have tryouts. The 90 high-calibre athletes who wanted to compete were allowed to do so as it was more about the experience, the journey, than it was about winning medals. It is about staying active. “They want us to use our experience within our sports as a platform to carry on,” said Sgt McPeak.
It is also about creating awareness and educating people that there is life after injury. It isn’t uncommon for soldiers who are injured and released from the CAF to close themselves off from the world. “So it is not even just about Invictus, but about getting out in the community,” added Sgt McPeak.