Programs & Services

Military Veterans Alpine Challenge connects seven Veterans

Typically known for its breathtaking views, Whistler Mountian in British Columbia allowed seven Veterans to connect. For the military Veterans, who hiked seven kilometres along the mountains, the view was only part of the reward.

Taking part in the first-ever Military Veterans Alpine Challenge, the veterans came together as a group to conquer fears, share stories and bring awareness to chronic pain, as this ailment affects many military members.

“It was amazing to see the views and just being on top of those mountains, you feel like you’re on top of the world. At the same time, you feel so small and tiny in this entire world. It was powerful to be there as a group, experiencing and facing our fears,” said Helene LeScelleur, a former member of the CAF who took part in the Alpine Challenge on Saturday, August 27.

The Chronic Pain Centre of Excellence for Canadian Veterans (CPCoE) organized the event to bring together veterans from across the country and help set goals while managing their chronic pain.

Panoramic photo of Whistler Blackcomb at sunset.

Living with Chronic Pain

According to the CPCoE, chronic pain is a condition that affects nearly 20 per cent of Canadians and involves physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and environmental factors.

Additionally, recent Government of Canada research shows that Veterans are twice as likely to suffer from chronic pain than the average Canadian. And to add to that, research shows that 50 per cent of female Veterans and 63 per cent of male Veterans with chronic pain also suffer from mental health illnesses.

“Chronic pain can be highly debilitating, particularly for Veterans whose pain is often compounded by a myriad of factors like mental and emotional health after service. For some Veterans, a better understanding of how chronic pain impacts their life will allow them to make changes to improve their well-being and to use their treatment benefits to better manage their pain. For other Veterans, a higher level of care is required,” comments Tom Hoppe, Military Veteran and Chair of the Centre of Excellence Advisory Council of Veterans.

“Our work at the CPCoE is about coming alongside Veterans living with chronic pain and offering resources and education, but also community and encouragement to keep persevering. It was this mission that guided us in developing and planning the Alpine Challenge.”

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

The First-Ever Alpine Challenge

The first-ever Alpine Challenge was designed by CPCoE to give participating veterans hope, comradeship, achievement, and challenge through the hike and through each other.

According to the CPCoE, one of the reasons Veterans face chronic pain at a higher rate is because of the “identity and culture that comes with being a Veteran,” an idea that attracted LeScelleur.

LeScelleur, a 20-year Veteran of the CAF, is now working on a Ph.D. Her thesis focuses on the identity crisis military Veterans face after involuntarily being released from the military, an experience she had herself.

In 2008, LeScelleur was deployed to Afghanistan. After an IED exploded by her vehicle, LeScelleur suffered physical and mental injuries. She also lost two soldiers under her command, causing her to suffer from survivor’s guilt. The combination of factors caused a downwards spiral that led to her eventual release from the military in 2015.

LeScelleur’s Ph.D. landed her an introduction to CPCoE and eventually led her to join the Alpine Challenge.

The Alpine Challenge allowed LeScelleur time for introspection and to examine her fears going into the walk.

“I was excited to do the walk. But, at the same time, I was scared, and I didn’t tell anyone that until the end of the walk,” said LeScelleur.

The group of 14 who participated in the hike were choppered into the mountain. LeScelleur recalls that immediately the groups were divided into two: with military Veterans leading the charge, right behind the guide.

“We were just driving the thing like we were on a mission,” recalled LeScelleur.

Besides the veterans, other participants included people who work in chronic pain management-related fields. They shared their knowledge on chronic pain, safe movement, nutrition, and other topics to help Veterans improve their overall quality of life.

At the end of the walk, participants had a chance to share their thoughts and fears and how the walk helped them to overcome them.

The CPCoE plans to make the Alpine Challenge an annual event and expand on it. The goal is to add resources and programs that future participants will have access to, including education and preparation sessions leading up to the hike, according to the CPCoE.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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