The pandemic won’t stop the Wounded Warrior run from returning to Vancouver Island this year, even if it means it possibly taking a different form.
The run typically sees a team relay-run 600 kilometres down the length of Vancouver Island over an eight-day period at the end of February, raising awareness and funds for Wounded Warriors Canada—a national mental health service for uniformed first responders such as firefighters, police, paramedics and military members. A recent extension of public health restrictions on gatherings in B.C. means the run has been postponed until the end of March or mid-April, but individual kickoff runs are still happening.
Port Alberni RCMP Const. Maria Marciano will return for her second consecutive run, while newcomer Dave Nesbitt from the Canadian Coast Guard will join her for the 2021 event. They will kick off with a practice run this Sunday, Feb. 7 starting at Victoria Quay.
Other team members are holding their own runs on Sunday in Sayward, Sooke, Nanaimo and Victoria, run director Jacqueline Zweng said. Runners include Mike Bowen, Rotary Wing Engineer with the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter division; Steve Kowan, Victoria Police Dept. sergeant; Lane Douglas-Hunt, Victoria Police Dept. police officer; Marissa Morison, paramedic and firefighter with Otter Point Volunteer Fire Dept.; Paul Hurst, View Royal fire chief; and Mark Blachuras, a Nanaimo paramedic.
The 2020 run was emotional for Marciano, who lost a colleague the previous year when he died suddenly at home while off duty. His death came as a shock to fellow RCMP members as well as friends and family.
“This run will still have some emotion to it,” she said. “That emotion isn’t ever going to go away. I’m going into this race a little calmer. At the same time there’s a lot of unknowns this year. There’s a lot more unplanned.”
Nesbitt will be the second Port Alberni runner in the Wounded Warriors event. Although based in Port Alberni, Nesbitt works for the Canadian Coast Guard’s national headquarters as an instructor. He has been working remotely from home since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Nesbitt became aware of the Wounded Warriors run in early 2020, but was unable to participate last year due to work commitments. He will be one of eight runners in the 2021 event. Nesbitt was diagnosed in 1998 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following two near-fatal motorcycle accidents. He said it has taken 20 years for him to finally get the help he needs.
If he had known about the mental health services Wounded Warriors Canada offers back then, he feels his journey would have been easier.
“We are doing this in an effort to raise awareness and money for our first responders who fight with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is something I can’t say enough about,” Nesbitt said. “This invisible illness plagues so many, and so many are afraid to speak up about. I know I was for years.”
Nesbitt said he can’t stress enough the importance of the programming Wounded Warriors provides to first responders. “I tell people we need to talk about (mental health) until it becomes as common as the oxygen we breathe.”
Wounded Warriors offers numerous trauma resiliency training programs for first responders and their families to help manage work-related stress before and after it becomes a problem.
Runners are holding a practice run on Sunday, Feb. 7 to kick off the Wounded Warriors run on Vancouver Island. The team normally kicks off with a run from Sooke to Sidney outside of Victoria, but they aren’t allowed to do so this year due to COVID-19 restrictions on groups.
The run was postponed on Feb. 5 following an extension of provincial health orders banning gatherings. Zweng said the team is working with the provincial health ministry to reschedule the run sometime after spring break. “There’s a lot of moving parts; we plan this event through almost every community on the Island.”
The run typically starts in Port Hardy and ends in Victoria for a total of 600 kilometres. The lunch and dinner gatherings that traditionally take place at Legions, police and ambulance stations along the way will not happen even if the run does receive approval, Marciano noted.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has agreed to run with the team in Victoria and speak at the conclusion, Zweng said.
There is also a 10-kilometre virtual event taking place from Feb. 1–14 where anyone can register and log their own run. Registration fees from the virtual run will go toward fundraising for the main run. Go to woundedwarriors.ca, follow the “ways to give” link to “events”, and click on the Wounded Warriors BC event.
“The more we raise awareness, the more we talk about it, the more we research and help, the more those suffering in silence will realize that even the strongest can’t face it all alone,” Nesbitt said.
He and Marciano, along with two other runners, will leave Victoria Quay on Feb. 7 at 9 a.m. for their practice run.
For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.