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Allied Winter Sports Camp hosted by Soldier On returns to Whistler

The event invites ill and injured military veterans from Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to participate in Nordic sportsĀ 
Participants at the 2020 Allied Winter Sports Camp pose for a photo.

For the first time in three years, the Allied Winter Sports Camp (AWSC) hosted by Soldier On is returning to Whistler. 

Up to 20 active duty soldiers and retired veterans from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are joining roughly 20 others from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom in the Sea to Sky corridor to bond and engage in active rehabilitation through sport. From Feb. 22 to March 1, each participant will have the chance to engage in various Nordic sports like bobsledding, sledge hockey, alpine snowboarding, and downhill and cross-country skiing.

Soldier On is a CAF program with a mandate to help ill and injured service members recover from their ailments or reintegrate into civilian life by way of various athletic and creative activities. According to the organization’s website, it has supported more than 10,000 soldiers and veterans since 2007. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a hiatus to the AWSC, a break that took its toll on numerous service members. Fortunately, the event is back. 

“It’s been exciting that we are able to provide these programs again to our members, and all these opportunities that have really impacted a lot of them,” said Vasiliki Zobolas, communications and outreach manager for Soldier On. “The whole point of Soldier On is to get ill and injured members together, so that they can have a community. When COVID hit, a lot of [soldiers] reverted back to that lonely, dark space they were in. 

“The fact that we were able to put these events back on together to continue our mission has been extremely valuable.” 

Soldier On’s relationship with Whistler goes back to 2010. During that year’s Paralympic Winter Games, the organization participated in a Paralympic summit and was later introduced to the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP). Soldier On and WASP began an official partnership in 2013.

Last time out in February of 2020, two special guests joined the Soldier On veterans for a game of sledge hockey: former Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan and local MP Patrick Weiler. 

Zobolas has high praise for Whistler, both for what it is and what it has brought to numerous service members over the years.

“I think it’s just the beauty of Whistler is—it embodies what everyone envisions Canada to be,” she said. “It is this winter town, and it has all these activities happening. The climate also is more beneficial than it would be, for instance, in [our organization’s] hometown of Ottawa. We don’t necessarily have the greatest climate when it’s -40 in Ottawa, so I think Whistler provides the best of both worlds in that aspect.” 

Any soldier is trained to work as part of a team. By bringing together service members from multiple nations in a group athletic context, Soldier On is able to reinforce the sense of camaraderie that they are accustomed to from the armed forces. Canadians who genuinely take to any given sport have an opportunity to go one step further.

Each year, Soldier On develops the roster that Team Canada sends to the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event founded by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex specifically for sick and wounded soldiers. Twenty-four Canadian athletes recently wrapped up their first training camp at CFB Esquimalt on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in preparation for this year’s Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, Germany. 

“We’ve just met with the team and from the week [of training], we were able to see that spark of camaraderie and teamwork that I think a lot of them have been missing for quite some time,” said Zobolas after she and her colleagues joined the veterans at CFB Esquimalt. 

That very same competition is coming to Whistler in 2025, giving Canadian servicemen and women a chance to represent their country in a meaningful new way. 

Make no mistake, though—one need not be an athlete or a sports lover to find community with Soldier On. The program also offers various creative activities, like art, music and cooking lessons, for those so inclined. Many of these tutorials went virtual during the pandemic, ensuring that veterans had some way of engaging in relevant hobbies and staying connected to one another. 

“The goal is just to remind people that as much as they might feel like they’re in their recovery alone, we are offering them [a source of] camaraderie,” Zobolas said. “It’s honestly remarkable to witness these members becoming friends—they reach out and they’re engaged with each other. 

“That is really what this is all about: finding that sense of community that [some soldiers] have felt like they’ve lost in exiting from the Canadian Armed Forces and going back to civilian life.”