Meet Warrant Officer (Retired) Joanne Bradley

From a young age, Joanne knew she wanted to be around people and make a difference. Following in her grandfather’s footsteps who was in the merchant navy, Joanne joined the military in 1990 as a reservist in the combat arms in the artillery. After completing her training her interest in the military grew, and Joanne transitioned to a full-time career as a Resource Management Support Clerk for the 30th Field Artillery Regiment. In early 2008, she made the decision to start pre-deployment training and prepare to go to Afghanistan.

During training, Joanne started to notice something wasn’t right – it started with blurred and double vision and extreme exhaustion. She was told it may be a virus. Soon after, Joanne was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and knew that she wouldn’t be able to safely deploy. Joanne made the difficult decision to stay back to ensure she was operating with the safety of everyone in mind.

In 2012, after 21 years of service, Joanne was medically released and provided with support to help transition out of the military. With a passion for the field of rehabilitation and recovery, Joanne went on to physiotherapy training and completed her placement at the Perley Rideau Veterans Health Centre working with Canadian Veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War. The experience gave her a deeper appreciation for those who served before her.

“I discovered through my placement that the elderly, and specifically Veterans from the Second World War and Korean War hold a special place in my heart. I was able to give back to those who served our nation and connect on our shared experience being Canadian Veterans.”

A life-changing experience

After leaving the military, Joanne struggled with the lack of a close-knit community that she had been accustomed to while serving and she was looking for opportunities to connect with like-minded people. Joanne was introduced to the Annual Canadian Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Calabogie Peaks Resort. This past February, she had the unique opportunity to participate in the program that allowed a group of over 30 ill and/or injured military members and Veterans along with a companion to experience a five-day adaptive ski experience through the Canadian Adaptive Snow Sports – National Capital Division.

Volunteer ski instructors were paired with participants based on their skill level and adaptive techniques were used depending on the need, whether through seated skiing, use of poles, or mental agility coaching that helped build confidence. Joanne is one of 600 military members and Veterans who have been able to attend the program to date thanks to True Patriot Love’s funding.

As someone who had never put on a pair of skis prior, Joanne was terrified of injuring herself. Throughout the experience, the volunteer instructors, who had been through the program themselves, taught her how to ski and she was able to independently make it down the hill by the end of the week. There were moments where fear snuck up and tested her but working with the instructors, she was able to manage her challenges. “All I had to do was look at the instructor and down the hill I went,” she said. “It was a miracle and I realized I could do more than I thought I could. This is what happiness feels like!”

Finishing up the course, Joanne was left with an invigorated sense of accomplishment, gratitude and belonging with this new community. The participants have kept in touch and act as peer support resources for one another. The experience has shown her first-hand the importance of having access to life-changing programs like the adaptive ski program for the military and Veteran community to help stay connected and support recovery during their transition to civilian life.

“The ski program was definitely the ‘switch’ in my life. It helped me believe that I can do great things. I no longer let fear stop me from accomplishing a goal.”

Becoming an Invictus Games athlete

Thanks to the program and the resulting peer support, Joanne connected with past Team Canada athletes for the Invictus Games – a sporting event that helps facilitate recovery and rehabilitation for ill and injured military members and Veterans. True Patriot Love supports Team Canada in partnership with Soldier On.

In hearing their experiences and understanding that the Games are not about traditional victory but the journey of growth and improvement, Joanne applied to be on the team. In 2019, she was accepted to be part of Team Canada at the 2020 Invictus Games in The Hague. In addition to participating in the running events, Joanne is also training in swimming and wheelchair basketball – two things she has never done before.

“I have always been afraid of water and I’ve never done wheelchair basketball. But if I can ski down a hill, I can do this too.”

The 2020 Invictus Games would have taken place May 9 -16, 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Games have been postponed until 2021. But Joanne has found a silver lining: “With the Games being postponed it means one more year on this amazing journey of self-improvement and growth. While practicing social distancing, I’m still training, doing my exercises and keeping in touch with my teammates.”

Remaining resilient

The current global crisis can take its toll on many people, including military members and Veterans. Joanne’s advice: “It’s important to take one day at a time, virtually connect with other people, be kind to ourselves, and look for the positive.”

“There are times when I do get sad but when that happens, I put on my Invictus Games hoodie to remind myself of who I still am – a person who can do great things and overcome obstacles.”

With an unconquerable spirit, Joanne will be competing in Invictus Games 2021. True Patriot Love looks forward to cheering Joanne and her fellow teammates on next year.