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Former soldier paddles for PTSD

St. Albert students meet river rider with a mission

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Monday, Jun 09, 2014 03:15 pm

PADDLING WITH PEACE – Retired military officer Trevor Petersen will be paddling from Edmonton to The Forks, Man. this summer to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder in the military.
PADDLING WITH PEACE – Retired military officer Trevor Petersen will be paddling from Edmonton to The Forks, Man. this summer to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder in the military.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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Follow Petersen

Petersen sets out from Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park in Edmonton at 9:30 a.m. July 1. For details, visit www.paddlingwithptsd.com.

Some St. Albert students got to cruise the Sturgeon this week with a man who plans to paddle across Western Canada for post-traumatic stress disorder.

About 30 Sir George Simpson students met at Lions Park Friday to plant trees and paddle with Trevor Petersen – a military veteran from Edmonton who’s paddling from Edmonton to Winnipeg this summer to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology biologist Laurie Hunt said she and her son met Petersen while he was paddling along the Sturgeon River.

“He’s somebody with a courageous journey in front of him,” Hunt said, and who symbolizes the school’s values of courage and determination.

Hunt approached Sir George Simpson principal Pierre Rousseau about having the students meet Petersen.

Rousseau said he thought this was a great idea.

“I’m very proud of the Canadian soldiers working so hard to maintain peace everywhere,” he said, adding that the school had many military families.

But some of those soldiers come home with injuries, both physical and mental.

“We need to provide them with support here at home.”

The students met and canoed with Petersen Friday afternoon as a show of support for his cause. They also planted a spruce tree and a number of shrubs near the trestle bridge – sort of a symbolic show of how the community (the shrubs) supports him (the tree), Hunt said.

Life with PTSD

A 17-year veteran with the Canadian Forces, Petersen served with the 2 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Bosnia, later joining the 408 Squadron and being deployed to Afghanistan in 2006.

During that deployment, he was often on call 24/7 as the only aircraft structural technician on the base, said his mother, Marie-Paul Petersen. That, plus other factors, likely lead to his diagnosis with PTSD in 2007.

PTSD is a mental illness that stems from trauma as a result of exposure to the threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence, reports the Canadian Mental Health Association. It can lead to flashbacks, sleep issues, difficulties with concentration and addictions.

About eight per cent of the Canadian Forces members deployed to Afghanistan have been diagnosed with it, reports the Department of National Defence.

“I’m an insomniac now,” said Petersen, when asked how PTSD affected him. He gets maybe four hours of sleep a night.

The years 2007 to 2009 are a blur to him, memory-wise.

“I was a workaholic,” he continues, working as hard as he could to avoid thinking about his issues.

He started binge drinking, spending wildly and exercising until he was sick.

“My mom walked in on me twice trying to kill myself and that wasn’t the worst thing she popped in (on).”

It took about a month to work through the paperwork needed to get Petersen the help he needed.

Petersen said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without his mother’s help.

“You can imagine what a single guy with nobody helping him would be like.”

Many veterans get fed up with the process midway through and don’t get the help they need, he added.

Long journey to recovery

Recovering involved extensive therapy and a stint in a residential treatment centre. Last summer doctors told him that he would never hold a regular job again due to ongoing issues with his mental health.

“I had to do something,” he said.

He came up with the idea of paddling across Canada to raise awareness of PTSD and funds for Wounded Warriors Canada – a group that supports the mental health of veterans. He hopes to raise $50,000 to cover the costs of the trip and $100,000 for charity.

He decided to do it on a paddleboard, having taken up the sport as a hobby.

“I kind of get lost in the paddling,” he explained, which makes it therapeutic.

Petersen said he’s been training throughout the Sturgeon watershed in preparation for his month-and-a-half long trip, which starts July 1.

He’ll be paddling for about eight hours a day as he follows an old fur-trading route, navigating rapids and portaging his boat on his back for up to six kilometres at a time.

“I’ll be a lot skinnier at the end of the summer!” he joked.

Petersen said he hopes his trip will inspire students to realize that anything is possible, and encourage others with PTSD.

“You can get over it. You can find that happy place.”

He urged his fellow soldiers to help each other out when it comes to mental health.

“It’s the only way we’re all going to come through.”


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