Sooke veterans in quest to endure

Invictus Games await two Sooke veterans

It was 2010, and Elizabeth Steeves was in a military training exercise she’d taken part in many times before. As she ran the course, she approached a wall and went head-first over it.

“I cried, said it hurt, but soldiered on,” recalled Steeves.

A year later with her back in agony, Steeves found out the extent of her injury: three compressed discs in her neck, a compromised lumbar vertebrae and crushed patellas in both knees.

The accident would change her life forever.

In a different time and a different place – in the dusty, dry climate of Afghanistan in 2008, Liz Newman was serving her second tour of duty. The days were long and hard in the sweltering heat of Kandahar.

She was having mood swings, bouts of depression and sleepless nights. Afterwards, she would return home to Canada only to battle an illness that caused respiratory failure and placed her in an induced coma two years later.

The Canadian Forces was a dream job for Newman, 44, who joined the infantry in 1992, but because of PTSD her military career would soon come to an end.

Injuries take their toll on members of the military, many career ending and life changing. No two people experience the same combination of symptoms or injuries, which can include everything from physical to emotion and mental health injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Sooke residents Newman and Steeves, they’ve had to reinvent themselves.

The process has been long and hard for the wounded warriors.

But this week, the two women take a huge step forward in their recovery when they play for Team Canada at the 2017 Invictus Games.

The Games, established by Prince Harry, are coming to Toronto Sept. 23 to 30 with 550 competitors from 17 nations.

Troops who suffered both physical and psychological injuries will participate in a variety of sports, including golf, archery, cycling, wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball and powerlifting.

Newman, who joined the reserves in Ontario while attending the University of Sudbury, became a regular force member in 1999 when she signed on as a medical technician. She was medically released in 2015., but not before taking part in two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

“It was a job I loved,” she said.

Injured military members apply to be on the Invictus team.

Newman initially picked indoor rowing and archery. She didn’t want to do a team sport because she’s had issues with success and didn’t want to let the team down.

She was later convinced to take on sitting volleyball.

Invictus is a new world for Newman, who has never considered herself an athlete.

“I didn’t do any sports before I applied. I applied for very selfish reasons. I was a huge intellect prior to my coma. I had a photographic memory. I was the smart girl. I’m not so much these days. I can’t access information like used to,” she said.

“What do you do when you have no job, no identity … no one? Through therapy and everything, I was told to say yes to everything, every opportunity to that comes along.”

Invictus has forced Newman to remake herself. She said before the Games no one would have considered her an athlete.

“I’m choosing things I’ve never done. I don’t want any more failures in my life. I can’t judge myself poorly if I’ve never done it before,” Newman said.

Steeves, a retired member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, was the first flag bearer for the Invictus Games National Flag Tour, when it launched in Victoria earlier this year.

She will compete in wheelchair tennis and Olympic powerlifting.

Steeves, who is originally from Gananoque, Ont., enlisted in the air force in May 2007 at Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que. She worked as a mobile support equipment operator driving cars, buses, forklifts and 16-tonne trucks.

But last year, Steeves was released from service because of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and her physical injuries.

She went through a difficult period before a friend suggested she try out for the Invictus Games.

“That changed everything for me. I think taking part in this whole thing for me is almost a godsend,” she said. “It’s something where I’m with a bunch of other people that do have the same styles of illness injury and mental health. I don’t feel alone for the first time in quite awhile.”

Both Newman and Steeves expect big things from Canada at the Games.

“I’m ready for it. I’m ready to play. I’m ready to show my skills. I’m ready to experience the adventure,” Steeves said.

Added Newman: “We’re going to kick ass. We’re going to get the job done.”



editor@sookenewsmirror.com

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