Disabled Canadian military personnel learn kayak skills

Leading Seaman Sonja Olejniczak and Leading Seaman Laura Golden high five their paddles in the waters off Hidden Cove after safely launching their kayaks. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Leading Seaman Sonja Olejniczak and Leading Seaman Laura Golden high five their paddles in the waters off Hidden Cove after safely launching their kayaks.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

As Chris Perkins slipped into his sea kayak, he took his paddles in hand and moved toward a brighter future.

The CFB Esquimalt sailor yearns to return to sea onboard a Canadian naval vessel, but a torn knee ligament has put a painful crimp in his plans.

But thanks to the Canadian Forces Solider On program, Perkins was one of about seven CFB Esquimalt personnel taking in a sea kayaking lesson at West Bay Marine Village in Esquimalt Monday.

It’s the first time a Soldier On activity has taken place in Greater Victoria.

For Perkins, his return to sea served as a much-needed morale booster in his long two-year road to recovery. It also provided him with a sport that doesn’t tax his torn ligament, an activity that gets him out and connecting with others who are familiar with the frustration of physical limitations.

“I haven’t been able to do things like this,” Perkins said before heading out on the water behind Victoria Waterfront Tours, which provided the kayaks, on Head Street. “It seems like a very amazing program and it gets people to try new things.”

Boosting spirits and physical health are why the Soldier On program has been so sought after since it was established in 2006. Since then retired and serving military personnel, who live with physical and psychological disabilities, are given the opportunity to improve their mental and physical health and keep active in new ways.

During the past year about 50 military members in B.C. have expressed interest in participating in Soldier On activities. Just last month, personnel from CFB Esquimalt travelled to Mount Washington for a ski and snowboarding excursion, and future programs will involve yoga and sledge hockey.

“The Solider On motto is ‘no limits,’ so no matter what your injury is there’s a way around it,’” said Tim Felbel, B.C. Soldier On representative and regional adapted fitness specialist.

The adaptive exercise program, which also provides military members with access to specialized equipment, is funded through donations from Canadians, corporations and other organizations.

“A lot are injured during the call of duty or doing something locally,” Felbel explained. “We’re supporting those who support our country.”


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