Sgt. Doug Brown is hooked — on fly-fishing and helping soldiers deal with battle stress.
But it wasn't always that way. A veteran of the Gulf War and two tours in Bosnia, who joined the army when he was 18, the final years of his army career were marked with anger and stress as he struggled to cope with Operational Stress Injury (OSI) from his years of war.
An ultimatum from his wife finally made him realize that he needed counselling to deal with his OSI and now in retirement he helps other soldiers deal with theirs.
Part of that healing for Brown has come through the Soldier On program, which brought him and others to the Sea to Sky corridor this month to enjoy the outdoors, relax, share stories and make new friends with other Canadian Forces personnel through the Allied Winter Camp.
The 10-day camp, a joint operation between Soldier On and the Canadian Paralympics Committee brought military personnel from Australia, the U.K, the U.S. and Canada together and is considered a recruitment camp for potential paralympic athletes.
Following a love of fly-fishing that he discovered recently through Soldier On Brown spent March 5 with Clint Goyette and Valley Fishing Guides on the Squamish River.
The war vet spoke openly about his 24-and-a-half-year military career and the impact it had on his mental health before wading into the Squamish River in pursuit of bull trout, rainbow and cutthroat.
"Before it was me and home and that was it," Brown said of his life before he started working on the mental struggles that plagued him. "Now there's a balance that the family has and they encourage me to go out and have fun."
To stress just how supportive his family is the former soldier pulled out his iPhone and opened a text message from his daughter.
"Have fun, hope you catch some fish," reads the note.
"They know that it's good for me," Brown said of his passion for fly-fishing.
After a successful day on the water Brown travelled to Whistler to meet up with the 40 veterans from around the world who have been in the Sea to Sky corridor since Feb. 27. The group of international travellers linked up with Chelsea Walker and the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program to try out para-alpine skiing, para-snowboard, para-Nordic skiing, sledge hockey, para-biathlon and wheelchair curling. The week culminates with a mini Paralympic Games-style event on Mar. 8.
"We have had tremendous feedback about this and the individuals that are here are really relishing the fact that they have had the chance to try multiple sports, which gives them a chance to find what their best aptitude is for sports, and also a lot of these sports aren't offered in their home nations or close to them," said Walker.
"Not everyone in this group is going to be classifiable into the Paralympics movement, but at the same time we are not just presenting what the pathways could be for Paralympics sport... but also what is available in other outlets."
The Soldier On program helps serving and retired Canadian Forces personnel with a permanent or chronic illness or injury to get and stay active in recreational activities or sports. It was founded in 2006 as a joint initiative between the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC).