Wounded warriors will go for 

Government, Paralympic officials partner Soldier On program

By Clare Ogilvie

Canada’s armed forces are the newest addition to the arsenal the country is putting together to win medals at the 2010 Paralympic Games.

The Department of National Defence is partnering with the Canadian Paralympic Committee in a program called Soldier On to help members of the military wounded in action, on the job, or otherwise, use sport to get better and even help them become elite athletes.

“… I would think there is a good chance that we will probably produce some very good athletes,” said Lt Col Gerry Blais, director of casualty support for the Canadian Forces.

He pointed to the high level of fitness, sense of duty and drive that most career CF members have as strong assets for anyone hoping to become a Paralympian.

But he also emphasized that the partnership is a way to help Canadians deal with a life-changing trauma.

“The ultimate aim is to promote healthy lifestyle and show (them) that their life isn’t over because they have undergone an amputation or have a spinal cord injury or something of that nature,” said Blais from his Ottawa office.

Cpl. Jesse Melnyck lost his right eye last August when he was shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan. It was the third tour of duty for the 25-year-old signal operator, now based at CFB Pettawawa.

“I really do believe in service to the nation, that is who I am,” said Melnyck explaining why he wants to get involved with the program. He also wants to learn from people who have been living with a disability for years what it is like in the long term.

“I think military members will see this as a challenge and they will want to be involved. They want people to see they are not broken.”

Sgt. Karen McCoy, an aviation technician at CFB Gagetown, has always dreamt of running in the Olympics and now hopes to be involved in the Paralympics through the Soldier On program.

“It is a dream for me to run,” said the mother-of two who lost her leg to cancer two years ago.

“I don’t give up. My kids would love to see that, and I would love to do it for other people in the service to show them that you don’t give up.”

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