Joined by members of the Westshore Rebels and the Colwood Fire Department, Wounded Warrior B.C. runners made their way up the last stretch along Island Highway to the finish line at Saunders Subaru in Colwood on Sunday.
The team has spent the last week relay running the length of Vancouver Island, starting in Port Hardy on Feb. 22 and ending in Colwood on Feb. 28, covering more than 600 kilometres.
The point of this gruelling task is to raise funds and awareness for Wounded Warriors Canada, a non-profit charity that helps veterans injured in their service. The organization is currently focusing on mental health and the staggering impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as operational stress injuries (OSI).
The Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Judith Guichon, was in attendance to welcome the team back.
“We owe you a great deal,” she said. “We can only imagine – we can’t really imagine – the toll taken by service.”
She compared the run to mental health, with each leg of relay being a small, achievable milestone. “Eventually, we all must stop and deal with all the things we’ve hidden away.”
While she wished all Canadians could run a mile – or in this case a kilometre – in the team’s shoes, she hoped members of the public from coast to coast will start taking notice.
Cliff LeQuesne also voiced his appreciation for the entire team, not just the runners, as he hosted the event.
“In life it’s easy to do nothing and just suffer in silence… You’re out here doing something, thank you.”
With more than $30,000 raised and donations still being tallied at the time of the Gazette’s print deadline that number was expected to continue to rise.
But as Allan Kobayashi pointed out, all the money and services in the world won’t fix these problems unless more work is done to break the taboo subject of talking about mental health and feelings.
“I have PTSD,” said Kobayashi, a co-founder of Wounded Warrior Run B.C. and one of six runners on the team. “It wasn’t too long ago I wouldn’t admit to something like that.”
He said the first step is for people to realize they are having a hard time and begin talking about it.
“This is what’s important… People willing to be vulnerable,” he said. “It really starts with that thing called acceptance.”
He pointed to the firefighters, other first responders and police officers in the room.
“PTSD is not defined by your title.” He acknowledge the need to address its impact on not just the men and women in service to their country but also those that serve their communities everyday.
It was a sentiment echoed by Dave Saunders.
“PTSD touches everybody.” He went on to describe a decision he had to make while attending a scene on the Malahat that forced him to choose between leaving a baby or a nine year old on the back seat of a burning vehicle.
“I live with it everyday,” he said, admitting that talking about that experience publicly was a challenge.
But he added that talking about it that day meant more than the medal he received.