Meet Warrant Officer (Retired) Levi Bradley
From a young age, Levi knew they wanted to be around people and make a difference. Following in their grandfather’s footsteps who was in the merchant navy, Levi joined the military in 1990 as a reservist in the combat arms in the artillery. After completing their training, their interest in the military grew, and Levi transitioned to a full-time career as a Resource Management Support Clerk for the 30th Field Artillery Regiment. In early 2008, they made the decision to start pre-deployment training and prepare to go to Afghanistan.
During training, Levi started to notice something wasn’t right – it started with blurred and double vision and extreme exhaustion. They were told it may be a virus. Soon after, Levi was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and knew that they wouldn’t be able to safely deploy. Levi made the difficult decision to stay back to ensure they were operating with the safety of everyone in mind.
In 2012, after 21 years of service, Levi was medically released and provided with support to help transition out of the military. With a passion for the field of rehabilitation and recovery, Levi went on to physiotherapy training and completed their placement at the Perley Rideau Veterans Health Centre working with Canadian Veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War. The experience gave them a deeper appreciation for those who served before.
“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, Levi struggled with the lack of a close-knit community that they had been accustomed to while serving and they were looking for opportunities to connect with like-minded people. Levi was introduced to the Annual Canadian Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Calabogie Peaks Resort. In February 2019, they 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. Levi 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, Levi was terrified of injuring themselves. Throughout the experience, the volunteer instructors, who had been through the program themselves, taught them how to ski and they were able to independently make it down the hill by the end of the week. There were moments where fear snuck up and tested them but working with the instructors, they were able to manage their challenges. “All I had to do was look at the instructor and down the hill I went,” they 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, Levi 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 them 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, Levi 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, Levi applied to be on the team. In 2019, they were accepted to be part of Team Canada at the 2020 Invictus Games in The Hague. In addition to participating in the running events, Levi also participated in swimming and wheelchair basketball – two things they had 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 were postponed until 2021. But Levi has found a silver lining: “With the Games being postponed it meant one more year on this amazing journey of self-improvement and growth.”
The current global crisis can take its toll on many people, including military members and Veterans. Levi’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.”