Title: MCpl Chris Downey
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Page Content: Soldier On holds special meaning for Master Corporal (MCpl) Chris Downey, who suffered severe injuries in Afghanistan in 2010 as the result of an IED explosion that also killed his close friend and teammate, Petty Officer 2nd Class (PO2) Douglas Craig Blake.
It was with PO2 Blake that MCpl Downey ran his first-ever half marathon and it was at the 2009 Canada Army Run, as part of pre-deployment training for Afghanistan. “It was one of the last things we did together in Canada, so I am committed to running it every year that I can in honour of his memory.” MCpl Downey has benefitted from the two charitable organizations Canada Army Run supports – Soldier On and the Military Families Fund. Both have played an important role in his recovery.
On May 3, 2010, he and PO2 Blake were part of a explosives ordinance disposal (EOD) team called upon to diffuse an IED. “It was Craig’s turn to be ‘number one,’ the main guy diffusing the IED. He did an amazing job and we accomplished what we set out to do.” On the team’s 2 km hike back to their vehicles, however, they were hit by another IED, buried in the ground. The explosion killed PO2 Blake instantly and critically wounded MCpl Downey. He suffered shrapnel wounds; burns and lacerations to his thighs, upper body and face; a collapsed lung; a broken and shattered jaw and right hand; and two aneurysms. He also lost part of his upper lip, all of his front teeth, and his right eye. He couldn’t walk, talk, or see.
He was air-lifted to Kandahar Air Field, where doctors stabilized him, and then to an American hospital in Germany, where the recovery process began. Two weeks later he returned home to Canada, first to Ottawa, then back to Cold Lake, Alberta, where he had been based since joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2000, at the age of 19.
Soldier On played a pivotal role in his recovery process, complementing the rigorous physiotherapy and rehabilitation program he immersed himself in to get back to health and fitness. Although the Soldier On activities and camps helped reignite his passion for those sports he enjoyed before his injuries, the intangible benefits helped him most. “It’s hard to find words to describe it. There’s something about being around other people with similar experiences and struggles. You don’t need to explain anything. They’ve been through it, so we just talk. It definitely helps on the psychological end of things.”
Soldier On has also played a crucial role in enabling his participation in a high-profile, physically and mentally challenging “mission” that will take place at the end of this year, an adventure he believes will “serve as confirmation, affirmation, and validation that I have returned to my former physical and mental level.”
MCpl Downey has been selected as one of the two Soldier On injured soldiers invited to participate in the Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) Allied South Pole 2013 Challenge, an exciting and ambitious adventure being described as “the largest modern day expedition of its type.” Walking With The Wounded is a U.K. organization whose purpose is to “stage extreme expeditions to illustrate the extraordinary determination and courage of the injured.”
The four-to-five week challenge, scheduled for this November and December, will include 12 injured soldiers from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Prince Harry, the Patron of the expedition, will join the UK Team for the entire challenge.
“Being selected as one of the Soldier On reps on the Commonwealth Team means much more to me than just a chance to go to the South Pole. It’s a chance to complete another mission with fellow soldiers, it’s an opportunity to prove to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to, and it’s an incredible opportunity to help motivate and inspire others who are injured and ill. My story may not help everyone, but this adventure will give me the means to share it on a much larger scale, increasing the odds of reaching the ones who could benefit.”
Another reason it’s important is because of a promise he made to PO2 Blake. “When I woke up in the hospital in Germany, I made a promise to Craig that I wouldn’t waste a single minute of my life, I will not waste this gift. He gave his life and saved mine. We had talked about completing a physical challenge together upon our return home, so this South Pole expedition is another opportunity to honour Craig.”
MCpl Chris Downey
I Soldier On since 2010
Image Caption: When I woke up in the hospital in Germany, I made a promise to Craig that I wouldn’t waste a single minute of my life.
Date Issued: 7/5/2013
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