Getting involved in sporting activities is an extremely important part of the recovery and rehabilitation process, and that is why Help for Heroes has always supported our wounded in all their sporting endeavours. One such occasion was the inaugural Soldier On-CPC Allied Winter Sports Camp, which took place this February and saw injured soldiers and veterans from across the globe – UK, Australia, USA and Canada – gather in Whistler B.C.
Help for Heroes were honoured to be able to fund the British soldiers who attended the camp, one such soldier was Cpl (ret’d) Jon le Galloudec. On June 7, 2007, Jon was on a mission with the 4thBattalion, The Rifles, in Basra, Iraq when he was ambushed by a sniper. His team came in to rescue him but they took on fire: one shot in the arm, another shot twice in the arm and head, and his best mate – Corporal Rodney Wilson –was shot in the chest as he tried to drag him to safety. “He died right beside me there and then – instantly,” Jon said almost deadpan. It was only after the chaos ceased that he realized the extent of his injuries. He had been shot in the back – the bullet clipping his spine – straight out through his stomach. Jon was partially paralysed from the waist down.
In the weeks after the shooting -- Jon, admittedly still in denial -- would tell his mates that he’d be back to finish the tour. Jon’s moment of realization came when the doctors told him that he would not walk again. “It was three weeks later that I regained feeling in the tops of my legs. After three months I took my first step and that was like winning the lottery – I was in tears, since then it has been onward and upward.” After 18 months of gruelling rehabilitation Jon began walking again with the help of custom brace shoe inserts.
Jon has scaled Mounts Kilimanjaro (2009) and Everest (2011) with Help for Heroes, and is in his third year of a Land Management course at Lackham College, hopefully leading to a new career in the agricultural sector. Jon was also able to participate fully in all the winter sports and recreational activities such as snowboarding, skiing, curling and Nordic skiing/Biathlon during the Soldier On / CPC Allied Winter Sports Camp thanks to Help for Heroes funding.
The driving force behind Jon’s recovery has been the voice of Cpl Wilson in his head “It could have gone differently [that day]. He gave his life to save a life, I can’t waste it.”
The Canadian Forces’ Soldier On program was founded in 2006 as a joint initiative between the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) to empower retired and serving members of the Canadian Forces with an injury (visible or non-visible) to accept their “new normal” by adopting an active lifestyle through participation in physical, recreational or sporting activities.
“This was the first Soldier On event I've attended since being injured in May 2012,” said Craftsman Ben Ward, 4 Close Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, U.K. “This has to be one of the best things I've ever done and has given me massive insight on what we can do, instead of what we can't do.”
The 40 representatives from the individual nations’ injured units/programs were divided upon arrival in Whistler into four teams: Haida, Algonquin, Inuit and Ojibwa in honour of the area’s Aboriginal roots. The first few days were designed as a training and introduction to the sports because for some this was their first exposure to sports played on snow and ice. To wrap up the week there was to be a competition nation against nation. However, days into the Allied Winter Sports Camp participants unanimously decided to compete as their allied teams. A true testament to the importance of Soldier On events proving that the scars – physical or mental – are only superficial… it’s the bonds forged through hardship, adversity and challenges that guide one through resilience, delivering them to a “new normal.”
“Everything including sports is adaptable no matter what your injury is – [you] just don't even notice it.” Staff Sgt Jeremy Mendiaz, US Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, CA.