By Soldier On –
Military life and hockey life share some common experiences. From day one, the soldier and the player drill in expert, precise, and crisp team movements. Individual skills are sharpened to better the chances of team success. Planning, preparation, and execution lead to wins.
In the face of illness and injury, soldiers and players are sidelined while the team moves forward, relentless in their pursuit of victory. The injured soldier and player must now look inwards, recover, and return to the fight. But what happens when they can’t? The roar of the crowd and the camaraderie grow muffled and distant as they are left to find a new way forward, towards a future unplanned.
For serving members and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Soldier On program helps soldiers, sailors, and aviators discover new ways of using sport and an active lifestyle despite the limitations that a permanent illness or injury present. For many Soldier On participants, hockey has provided an opportunity for healing.
Since 2016, the Ottawa Senators have been supporting Soldier On participants in rediscovering their passion for the game. Each winter, in the nation’s capital, members of the Ottawa Senators Alumni lace up their skates to train and play with a team of Soldier On participants.
“Along with being a parent and a husband, the Soldier On camp is the most important thing that I have ever been involved with,” says Rick Smith, former professional ice hockey player and member of the 1970 Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins.
This inspirational camp brings men and women together who, at first, share only three things: the bond of military service, a life-changing illness or injury, and a passion for the game of hockey. Before long, they discover much more: friendship, resilience, and inspiration.
For Master Corporal James Stewart of Gagetown, N. B., the opportunity to participate in a Solider On hockey camp was life changing. “I met people that I never knew, but thanks to Soldier On and the Senators, I know that they will now be friends for life!”
Ottawa Senators defenseman and assistant captain Mark Borowiecki is no stranger to injury. Owing to his throwback, in-your-face, playing style, Mark has earned the respect of players in the league and fans everywhere as a tough but fair player. Off the ice, Mark is a gentleman of the highest order, as evidenced by his 2017-18 nomination for the Bill Masterton trophy. Mark believes in Soldier On, and since 2016, he and his wife, Tara, have generously hosted ill and injured soldiers at the Canadian Tire Centre, often spending time with them after the game
As Corporal (retired) Isaac President says, “Having the ability to tell even a part of your story to someone, and have them communicate to you that they actually hear you and care, is something we all long for. Mark was very comforting. He made me feel at ease, welcome, and appreciated.”
This support does not end with the Ottawa Senators themselves. For three seasons, the Lépine family, local builders of luxury apartments, has honoured CAF members at each Ottawa Senators home game by generously hosting them at Hero’s Ridge: a suite at the Canadian Tire Centre reserved for CAF members and veterans, and their friends and family, to enjoy a truly memorable evening.
More than 100 currently serving and retired CAF members suffering from illness and injury have been directly impacted by the generous support of the Ottawa Senators and the Lépine family. Strengthened by this life-changing experience, these members have demonstrated to the CAF community, and the public at large, the transformative power of sport and their indomitable warrior spirit as they Soldier On despite adversity.
The Soldier On program is part of the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group. Soldier On is recognized for improving the quality of life of the ill and injured and is a highly visible and integral component of the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Armed Forces’ commitment to the care of ill and injured members.
This article was initially published in the Maple Leaf.
This post is also available in: Français (French)