Tracy Howlett-Cooney, pictured in Victoria, carried the Invictus flag on the first leg en route to Toronto.

Comox Valley veterans share their Invictus experience

Tracy Howlett-Cooney was at a loss for words. Dale Robillard’s experience was beyond description. Mimi Poulin was even more humbled the second time around.

The trio of Comox Valley residents were referring to the 2017 Invictus Games September in Toronto — a multi-sport event that Prince Harry established for injured, ill or wounded veterans.

Poulin, who had competed at Invictus 2016 in Florida, won three golds and a silver medal in swimming, and a gold and silver in cycling.

“This is a pretty big accomplishment for me, especially after dealing with the life-altering injuries I suffered during my military career,” said Poulin, who joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 1997 and later trained as a Search and Rescue Technician. In 2014, she sustained a traumatic accident while parachuting. “I thought my accident meant that I would lose everything I had come to love. It wasn’t until I started getting active again that I realized there is life after injury.”

Before her accident, Poulin had been a high-level athlete who loved extreme sports. With help from the CAF Soldier On program, she regained her confidence, realizing that disability should not get in the way of achieving goals.

Robillard, a retired master warrant officer with the CAF Search and Rescue team, placed 11th in golf, based on ties with the ninth best score. Besides the competition in Toronto, he credits Invictus for recognizing the difficult journey that a family takes when a serviceman or woman sustains an injury.

“Our families are the real heroes,” he said.

Though she didn’t reach the podium, Howlett-Cooney is proud of her standing.

“These games were the first time I have ever competed,” said Howlett-Cooney, who carried the Invictus flag on the first leg of its 37-day journey to Toronto. “Regardless of your skill level, experience and ability, the games supported everyone.”

Howlett-Cooney was born into a military family. Her grandfather, Bill Vincent, was a Second World War veteran who later served on Comox council. She recalls him drilling her to become a cadet as a stepping stone to join the Forces — which she did in 2007. Two years later, she suffered a back injury, which eventually required surgery.

“I still live with some limitations and pain, however the doctor has given me the green light to ‘sport on’ and to try anything,” said Howlett-Cooney, who also credits the Soldier On program for re-introducing her to the sports she loves. “Invictus has set me on a new journey of my own. It is impossible to explain the raw emotion and pride. I came out of the journey as a better version of myself.”

Robillard hopes that athletes’ participation in multiple games is kept to a minimum due to the number of veterans who need the Invictus experience. He feels the event provides a platform that helps bring veterans’ stories and public interest to the forefront.

“A global understanding of the consequences of military service is critical, if the gap between society in general, injured veterans and the families of injured veterans is to continue to shrink,” Robillard said.

“The Invictus Game were the most incredible example of positivity, acknowledgement and sincerity I have ever witnessed. And for that, I’m grateful.”

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