Thursday, September 25, 2008

ARMY Run - Injured Soldiers - Ottawa Trip



I was explaining to a friend from I.F. the other day how losing my leg was like a gift.  Odd, I know.  Admittedly, not the kind of gift you ask for at Christmas...  but let me explain.

Last weekend I was given the opportunity to address injured soldiers from the Canadian and U.S. Armed Forces.  The occasion was the first annual Army Run in Ottawa, and my mission was to provide some motivation and inspiration for a group of men (and a few women too) who have seen what hell looks like and want to book a seat on the next Air Force transport back there.

The story of how an individual winds up missing a limb, or blind, or otherwise "disabled" is usually not a pretty one, I have heard many different tragic tales and I have my own, which I have told a thousand times....  but this was a room filled with some stories that made me feel like a rookie on the first day of training camp.  In my preparation for the talk I sometimes wondered how the victim of a suicide bomber, insurgent attack or roadside bomb would relate to a guy who lost his leg touring San Francisco with his college sweetheart.  Would we be speaking the same language?

Perhaps in response to this concern, the Armed Forces had provided an interpreter for the event.  I couldn't help but imagine her interpreting my words like this:


ME: "Hi there, my name is Meyrick"

INT: "His name is Meyrick."

ME: "I lost my leg bla bla bla, cable car crash, San Francisco, bla bla bla."
INT: "He is barely a man and you could all eat him for breakfast."

ME: "Let's talk about goals."
INT: "The pretty boy wants to talk to you men about goals"


I am still not sure she didn't say those exact words to the francophone soldiers from Quebec.

It is difficult to assess and appraise the effectiveness and entertainment quality of one's own speech...  I was encouraged when I noticed several heads nodding in agreement as I spoke.  One such head was attached to the sturdy neck of a General.  He seemed to be digging my message, and his approval, assumed as it was, buoyed my confidence.  I successfully coaxed a few laughs out of the audience, usually at my own expense.  Everyone enjoys a tale of utter disaster on the racecourse and I have no problem indulging them and sharing the lessons.  

By and by, I found myself on a roll...  The message I wanted to convey was never in doubt - I live it, so it's hard to forget - getting the tone right is the all-important element of the talk.  You can flap your lips all day long about goals, having a plan, challenging yourself and relishing the adversities of a good hard challenge, but if you get the tone wrong it will all be lost.  If you TELL THEM HOW IT IS, or if you TELL THEM WHAT TO DO, or god forbid, if you seem to think you are THE MAN it is all over (or at least you will wish it was...)  Conversely, if you TELL THEM NOTHING or WASTE THEIR TIME you might as well provide each audience member with a pillow.

In the end nobody fell asleep and I got many fine compliments on my words.  There is no doubt that I will need to spend a lot more time with these guys before I will understand all of the challenges they face - mental and physical - if I ever will.  Fortunately, it seems as though they may have me back sometime in the not to distant future.

AFTER THE TALK

We adjourned to the Officer's Mess where beer is cheap and tales of distant battle fields (real and figurative) are told.  It was a perfect way to wind down from a speaking engagement and I partook in the beverages along with everyone else.  There was minimal talk of the next day's run - nobody seemed overly concerned.  As the beers went down I received a crash course in all things military.  Feeling a bit like a tourist amongst locals, I nevertheless felt privileged to get a view into a world not many civilians see.  Dinner on the town was to follow and more beer was consumed.

THE RUN

The clock beside my bed at the Sheraton read 8:24 when my eyes opened.  

It has since been suggested that I "slept in".  I prefer to think of it as "preserving energy" for the half marathon which started at 8:45.  After scrambling into my race clothing I dashed out the door and arrived at the start line in time to hear the national anthem...  I found Jesse and Frank - two of the soldiers who mercilessly fed me beer the previous evening.  In truth I had nobody to blame but myself, nevertheless, I secretly hoped they were somewhat dehydrated as I was...

The race organizers had arranged for a ceremonial start for injured soldiers and athletes with a disability - 15 minutes ahead of the main pack.  We took off and settled into an easy stride.  As the first few kilometers ticked by we wound our way along the Rideau Canal - which is beautiful.  I felt pretty good but was certainly harbouring a bit of trepidation for the latter stages of the race...  excess beer, minimal sleep and no breakfast are not my usual pre-race routines.  Aid stations were critical to my success and I guzzled gatorade as if it were beer at an Officer's Mess.  Around the 9 or 10 km mark I procured a couple of energy gels from a gent who had a fully packed fuel belt.  I was in good shape.

Our platoon of three stuck together and gutted out a victory as Jesse completed his first half marathon (and first real race) since being wounded in Afghanistan; Frank, his classmate at the RMC in Kingston, who had come to run with him as a guide/buddy, put in a training day for his upcoming marathon; and I managed to avoid embarrassing myself (barely) and survived the run with nary a hangover at the end.  I actually felt fresh as a daisy by the end of the run - it gave me some pacing ideas for the next time I tackle a half or a full marathon.  A little bit of effort saved over the first half can really help in the latter half.

HOME NOW

The overall experience is one that is tough to sum up for me.  I feel proud, I feel humbled, I feel excited about helping the armed forces and the injured soldiers in the future, as it seems I will. The strongest feeling of all is that I am doing something important, something that helps people directly.  It is incredibly rewarding and I would likely not be in this place in my life if I had two legs.  Losing my leg wasn't an event I would have chosen at the time, but it sometimes feels like a gift now.  There is a proverb that says "calm seas never make skillful sailors", and I feel like it is no coincidence that my roughest moments in life have contributed so much to the development of my strongest attributes.

I will be posting more photos and thoughts from this experience over the next little while...  For now, I would like to express a huge THANK YOU to the Canadian Armed Forces, the Soldier On initiative and the Injured Soldiers Network for asking me to be a part of their weekend.  I would also like to thank Capt. Kim Fawcett for suggesting me and arranging my trip.  Most importantly, I'd like to thank our soldiers, wounded or not, for being willing to make enormous sacrifices in the name of duty and freedom.  

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2 comments:

Ri said...

M,I am SO proud of you!

I will never forget waking up one night shortly after you came home from your accident. I heard noises and got up. It was you, literally crawling on your hands and knees to get to the bathroom.
I guess it was dark and you couldn't find your crutch. At the time, I went back to my bed and cried my eyes out. It was a devastating sight and you were in a lot of pain.

Look at you now! You've come a long way, baby! BUT, you've worked your ass off to get here. There was no magic carpet ride for you Meyrick - just a lot of hard work and many hours of soul searching.

You deserve everything you get because believe me, it's all been fairly earned.

I love you very much.

Your soppy sister. R.

Ri said...

Meyrick to Public Dictionary

Example:

"It has since been suggested that I "slept in"."

"been suggested" = Oh please. We're probably talking about 15 eyewitnesses - MINIMUM.
Shakes head.