The Family Unit

Paddling With PTSD – One Family’s Journey

In 2007 Trevor Petersen returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan where he repaired aircraft. Upon his return he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“In 2008, doctors decided I could no longer function within the military,” explained Trevor who tried a return to work program while awaiting his release.

His attempts at gaining employment were continuously met with a downward spiral effect. Trevor released from the military in 2010 and focused his energy solely on his rehabilitation. He had two stays at Homewood, an addiction and mental health treatment centre in Toronto. It was in between these stints he started paddleboarding and “the real healing began.” He found the sport very therapeutic and became heavily involved. Then in the summer of 2013, it was determined that he was unemployable due to his injury.

“At first I isolated myself. I spent those days thinking in the basement. I knew I still wanted to be a productive member of society and I had this passion for paddleboarding. I wanted to give people hope and dispel some of the myths that are out there about PTSD. My goal was to raise awareness and funds for Wounded Warriors Canada.”

So Trevor decided he wanted to inspire others who suffer from PTSD to strive for a better and more fulfilling life. On Canada Day 2014 Trevor started his paddleboarding journey on the North Saskatchewan River. He has almost completed his epic adventure paddling from Edmonton to Winnipeg.

“I called it Paddling With PTSD. My mom’s my support and the administrator of this project. She went through the ringer with me and my PTSD and now she’s healing too. I’m coming in from the water tired, she’s driven all day and worked the logistics yet there she is getting supper for us in the RV,” explained Trevor.

There are checkpoints along the route.

“At the checkpoints I stop to eat. That adds work for her. She’s the one on the road talking to people. She’s my advocate. Our (people with PTSD’s) advocate. She’s seen the good, the bad and the really, really ugly of PTSD.”

Trevor’s mom, Marie-Paul Petersen has a terrible fear of water after a near drowning experience as a child.

“I support him, and I will always support him. I learned to paddleboard too. We never go without a lifejacket though. I have PTSD as well, not from childhood, but from what Trevor and I have been through together. I find the paddling to be calming and soothing. I’m mostly in the motorhome though. I track his journey, drive, talk to the public and explain what we are doing,” explained Marie-Paul.

On a good day, if the weather co-operates, Trevor averages six hours on the board. On a windy day or a day with forecasted thundershowers he has to be careful on the water. His shortest day involved three hours of paddling and his longest ten hours.

“It really depends on the accessibility to checkpoints. Sometimes, because of the shoreline I can’t get in. Sometimes I can’t be tracked either. There isn’t always cell or satellite service where I paddle. Although I’m on a touring board I can’t carry a lot of food and my water purifier can’t always be trusted. I drink a lot of water,” noted Trevor, who hopes to finish this Paddling With PTSD journey at the Forks in Winnipeg the week of August 10.

“We’re thinking about heading to Ontario next summer. We’ll be in the planning stages soon. There is still a lot of PTSD advocacy to be done, hope to give, and education to do.”

For people looking to support the Petersons or connect with them Marie-Paul suggests,
“When you go to our website there are two ways to donate money. We support Wounded Warriors Canada. Keep in mind they issue tax receipts. Also, you can donate to our actual journey, as we advocate for hope and awareness. Any little bit makes a big difference, and we are so grateful. It costs a lot to buy equipment and gas. Also, he works really hard and he eats a lot. An awful lot,” laughs Marie-Paul. Her son and teammate Trevor laughs in the background.

Please track and support Trevor and his mom by visiting:

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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Canadian Military Family Magazine