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