It was a long and arduous two days, but a team of eight West Shore firefighters managed to hike nearly 170 km through the rugged Alberta backcountry, raising awareness about first responders’ mental health along the way.
The trek earlier in August from Canmore to Kananaskis was part of a fundraising effort in support of Wounded Warriors Canada, which has raised more than $12,000 for the charity.
“I think for all of us, it was much more of a mental challenge than we expected. Really having to focus, especially the last five or so hours each day, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other when your body is telling you to stop, and your mind is saying you need to keep going,” said organizer and View Royal firefighter Jen Dale
Each day started early and involved more than 14 hours of hiking, broken up by stops every hour to perform 22 push-ups – a powerful symbol of the importance of Wounded Warriors’ mission, as Dale said it is the number of veterans and first responders who die by suicide each day in the U.S.
The team, made up of firefighters from View Royal, Langford, and Colwood, set themselves a goal of raising $10,000 this year, and Dale said it was a great feeling knowing they had surpassed that goal even before they set off on the trek, which also featured teams from across the country.
“The amount of support we received from the community was outstanding,” she said. “To be able to walk knowing we had raised that amount of money was definitely a motivating factor for all of us to keep moving, even when we were in a lot of pain … our success is the community’s success, we would not have done it without them.”
While the goal may have been to support an important cause, the adventure also served as a powerful team-building exercise for the already-close firefighters. Bonding over the tough physical and mental challenge, Dale said the group quickly became comfortable sharing their own mental health experiences and they gained an even stronger appreciation for Wounded Warrior’s mission of providing mental health support across Canada to military veterans, first responders, and their families.
While the wider Wounded Warrior fundraising campaign is set to continue across the country, the West Shore team is standing down for now, though their online donation page will remain active and fundraising is expected to continue at future events.
But with the trek now behind them and their bodies beginning to recover, Dale said the team is already beginning to think about next year.
“Hopefully next year we will be able to send more than one team and hopefully get some more departments involved, and potentially even B.C. Ambulance and some police teams so we can all be involved.”