Invictus athlete uses archery to combat mental illness

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The 2017 Invictus Games will be held in Toronto from September 23-30, where the athletes from over 17 countries are slated to compete against each other.

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By Makala Chapman
8 Wing Trenton: The Contact

With the Invictus Games just around the corner, Sergeant Kristopher Vaughan says he’s wasting no time when it comes to preparing.

Currently serving at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Kingston with 1 Engineer Support Unit (1 ESU), Sgt Vaughan will compete in the archery division of the games. The 39-year-old construction technician is just one of more than 550 ill, injured or wounded servicemen and women from all over the world set to compete in the international competition.

Sgt Vaughan said he has suffered from mental health de­ficiencies and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder ever since his return from Afghanistan in 2010. Determined to adapt to the new obstacles in his life, the Kingston athlete said once he ­finally came forward to receive help, he was eager to ­find a hobby that would help him regain his focus.

He explained that since he had always found shooting guns at the range therapeutic, he decided to get his civilian ­firearms license. But one day, on a whim, he picked up a bow and arrow and said from then on he never looked back.

Now over a year later, Sgt Vaughan said he’s learned quite a bit about the sport and credits it for helping him manage his mental health. When the bow is in his hand, the athlete noted that “nothing around matters and I can just focus on the target in front of me.”

While he added that he isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of having thousands of people watch him perform at the games, he said he’s honoured to be representing Team Canada.

“For me to represent the country in archery (will) be an amazing experience that I’m looking forward to,” he said. “I’m not an overly athletic person so to represent Canada in any other sporting event is not likely to happen.”

Sgt Vaughan went on to express his support for the games and said that sports and physical fitness is a key ingredient in the rehabilitation process for many injured military personnel.

He also noted that through training for the competition, he has had the chance to meet a variety of other military personnel, including veterans, who have all had to learn how to adapt to their acquired injuries. He described his encounters with his fellow teammates turned friends as a “humbling” and “eye-opening” experience.

Although he was originally not comfortable talking about his own struggles with mental health, Sgt Vaughan said he has come to realize the importance of sharing his own story.

“Education is key,” he said. “If I’m 100 percent open about it, I’ve contributed directly to another one of my friends opening up.”

He also said that that while mental health still has a lot of stigma attached to it, talking about a personal experience will encourage others to open up and hopefully get the help they need.

As for the Invictus Games, he said he is ready and will continue preparing both physically and mentally.

This year’s competition will be held in Toronto from September 23-30, where the athletes from over 17 countries are slated to compete against each other.

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