Members of the Wounded Warriors Canada Run came down Johnston Road into Port Alberni with a full escort of emergency vehicles on Friday, March 1, bringing a message of awareness of operational stress injuries with them.
The relay-style run kicked off Feb. 25 from Port Hardy. The team of athletes covered more than 600 kilometres in seven days, stopping in communities to raise awareness and funds for Wounded Warriors Canada. Funding supports national mental health programs for veterans, first responders and their families struggling with operational stress injuries such as PTSD.
“The Wounded Warrior Run BC team is on a mission to honour Canada’s ill and injured veterans, first responders and their families,” said Jacqueline Zweng, director of the Wounded Warriors Run BC.
“We provide a source of hope as we reach out and talk about the wounds that are not visible.”
Team members attended a fundraising dinner at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 293 in Port Alberni.
“I think your work is a continuation to your sacrifice to our country and we are indebted to you, each and every one of us,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns told the team members.
A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the evening to honour Port Alberni RCMP Const. Douglas Rentz, who died while off duty on Feb. 23.
Mike Bowen, a rotary wing engineer with the Canadian Coast Guard, ran with Samon Haire (a constable with the Victoria Police Dept.) up the Hump on Friday. “It’s been a journey for me,” said Bowen, whose wife Hailey Shearer’s family lives in Port Alberni.
“It’s been amazing I was so proud to run into Port Alberni today.”
Bowen said he became ill partway through the run, and he learned that as a member of the team he didn’t have to suffer alone. He had support from his teammates. It’s a lesson he will take back with him to his job with the coast guard.
Seven members of the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs and their service dogs also attended the event and several members spoke about the importance of having their dogs. Naval veteran Stéphane Marcotte, who is a Wounded Warrior team member along with his wife Susan, talked about how important his dog Sarge has been, and why he supports the run.
“They gave me so much, so I like to give back. They saved my life,” he said.
VI Compassion Dogs began six years ago at the request of 19 Wing Comox, who had a member who needed help. Their dogs are accredited, and both dogs and owners spend 52 weeks training. When the program first started, Wounded Warriors Canada was among the first organizations to step up and help financially, VICD director Barb Ashmead said.
Port Alberni’s Legion Br. 293 collected $1,000 from the fundraising dinner to donate to the run. The Somass War Memorial Society donated $100, as did the Legion ladies’ auxiliary. Two sororities donated a combined $250, and there were also cash donations made at the dinner.
This was the Wounded Warriors’ first time running to Port Alberni, and Zweng said they will be back in 2020.
The team stayed overnight in Port Alberni and departed at 4:45 a.m. to continue their run from Parksville.
The run concluded on Sunday, March 3 at the BC Legislature building in Victoria.