We are all wounded. Physically. Mentally. Suffering is part of being human. But so is being there for one another.
I felt that every minute of every hour yesterday. I’m part of the Wounded Warriors Run team. In a couple weeks we’ll start at the top of Vancouver Island and run as a team to Victoria. Eight days, 600 kilometers.
Yesterday we started smaller. One day, and 58 K. A min-version of what is to come.
Our day, and my tears started in Sooke, BC. This small town, not far from Victoria is still grieving three young men killed in a terrible accident just over a week ago. An unthinkable, unfair tragedy.
We started at the Legion. 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Neither the time nor the day stopped veterans from donning their uniforms and their medals and greeting us with smiles and sustenance. This Legion exudes history. Grainy black and white photos of men who died overseas line the walls. I saw a bell forged from the metal of an aircraft shot down over England. I listened as the co-founder of this run prepared us for the physical and mental challenges to come, encouraging us to “find our moment.”
It didn’t take long for the moments to come. My tears started when “JZ,” our run director spoke, thanking our hosts. JZ is courageous and passionate and sincere. Our team would run through walls for her. The tears kept flowing when the Legion’s padre spoke about having joined the Legion in 1962 and having seen it evolve. In a different time and era, veterans drank and smoked and shared stories. They were there for one another. And now, Legions are community hubs. Open to everyone. A different time, a different era. The Legion there for the community. The community there for the Legion. Then the mayor spoke, and my tears continued, as she thanked Wounded Warriors for supporting the veterans who live in her community. After we marched outside, where the Legion has its own cenotaph – both simple and glorious, it has a magnificence beyond words. The Legion presented a cheque, over a thousand dollars raised in just the last few days. It wasn’t just a cheque. It was a message. We are all in this together.
The run started relay fashion, our first runners hammering out fast miles on still slick roads, leading us to the Langford Fire Hall. The Fire Chief and Mayor greeted us. Both of them taking the time to be there, and speak, and tell their firefighters and our team that mental health matters. That the job can be very hard. That it takes a toll. And that Langford stands behind its first responders. And those first responders stood with our team. Inspiring us and feeding us. A hearty meal, cooked in a firehall kitchen. A meal to refuel our bodies. A meal with an unspoken message behind it. What’s ours is yours.
Our run continued, and an hour later our convoy pulled into the Saanich Police Department. The reception was extraordinary. An Honour Guard in full regalia lined the entranceway. An entranceway filled with Saanich cops – the Chief, Senior Officers, cops in uniforms, cops there on their day off. I saw a very dear friend who I had worked with for years. I hugged her and it felt great. We’d worked on very serious files together. Murder investigations. High pressure – high stakes. Intense files. We leaned on each other in the midst of those investigations. It was a great hug.
On the journey went, towards Sidney. Our team inspired by “Top Shape” an alumni member whose physical gifts and strength are matched only by his kindness and warm demeanour. Top Shape had run every leg so far, and just kept going. In total he ran over 50 k yesterday. Most of the rest of us did about 10. Pretty inspiring. So much so that “Top Shape” isn’t just his name. It’s a mantra the team uses for inspiration. “Top shape, top shape, top shape.”
My turn to run came with Top Shape and Maria. Maria is an RCMP member – the first Mountie in history to be part of the Wounded Warrior Run. Mounties do most of the policing in British Columbia. I have had the honour to work with many of them. Often, especially in the smaller detachments they are underfunded, understaffed, and overworked. Yet they push on, in the best tradition of that historical police force. They take care of their communities and they take care of each other. In it together.
The last two kilometers were the best. We ran in together as a team. Led by JZ. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to run yesterday. But she did. And lifted us all in the process.
We finished at the Sidney Fire Hall, stopping our run beneath a large Canadian flag which flew from the top of a towering ladder.
Inside the warmth and generosity continued. And the donations. Thousands of dollars from Serious Coffee and The Victoria Whiskey Festival. Multiples of thousands. From organizations that did not have to donate a cent. But did. Giving back to their communities. Humbling and sobering moments being part of a team which is a recipient of such generosity.
We are all wounded.
And we are all in this together.