Three athletes from Kingston will be representing Canada at the 2019 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games from Friday, June 21, 2019 to Sunday, June 30, 2019 in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Created in 2010, the Warrior Games were designed to introduce wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans to Paralympic-style sports. Approximately 300 athletes will participate in the competition.
This is the second year Canada has sent a team. Kingston athletes Peggy Brogaard, Nick Kerr, and Damien Pittman are amongst the 39 members of Team Canada. Team Canada’s participation is supported by, Soldier On, a Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group program supporting veterans and serving members by helping them adapt and overcome permanent physical or mental health injury or illness through physical activity and sport.
Pittman, who is soon to be released from the military, said that he valued the chance to compete for his country on the global stage.
“I’ve got about a month and a half left and the uniform will be coming off.” Pittman said. “Now, to be able to say that I’m representing Canada again, it’s amazing.”
Brogaard, who will be spending her last day in the military on the plane to Tampa, said that being selected out of almost 500 applicants was an incredible way to end her 28-year military career.
“It was a massive gift,” she said.
While the program provides support to those transitioning out of the military, not all the athletes are at the end of their military careers. Kerr, who has served 17 years and said he “plans on going until 60 years old,” described the program as a “stepping stone,” and noted that Warrior Games “provided me a new outlook into sports that I’ve never even thought about.”
“This is just a stepping stone,” Pittman agreed. “The Warrior Games is really the goal of Soldier On — just to get us to fall in love with sports again.”
“Not even just sports,” added Brogaard. “It’s about community and active lifestyle.”
Brogaard said Soldier On “promotes community among all of the people that are part of the program.”
“It’s pretty incredible. Kingston is a huge supporter of the Solider On Program,” she said.
Pittman said that the experience of building a sense of community also helped foster positive mental health habits.
“When you’re surrounded by people, regardless of their injury, everybody understands the feelings you have,” he said. “When you feel that you’re worthless or that you’re failing, you’re not. If you feel like you’re not living up to expectations, everybody understands.”
The athletes have been training at The Iron King, a veteran owned and operated gym in Kingston’s west end catering to current and former service personnel.
“It’s actually quite magical. It’s this place where first responders and military people can go, and you walk in and there is truly no judgment. Everybody’s coming from something, you don’t have to explain anything,” Brogaard said, noting that owners Arthur and Brittany Laramie have created “a massive family unit” that is a pillar of support for the community.
“The Iron King changed the direction of my life,” she said.
The Iron King offers traditional gym and personal training services, but also provides injury therapy as well as PTSD and mental health support groups.
According to Pittman, The Iron King’s contributions to supporting service members “shows how much Kingston as a community is behind their military and behind their first responders.”
“It’s given us all this unbelievable opportunity to show that you’re not alone,” he said. “You don’t have to just be a first responder or military. It’s the invisible disease — it happens to everyone.”
Brogaard said that training for the games at The Iron King was a process of learning to conquer mental barriers and developing adaptive ways to continue doing things.
“That’s what Soldier On is — to not stop moving. You can do whatever the heck you want to do. And there’s going to be an adaptive way to do it, which is what the Warrior Games are about,” she said.