By: Tina Panos

In October of 2016 I was invited to participate in a 5 day in-house experiential cohort for First Responders who suffer from PTSD.  The cohort, named Project Trauma Support, and ran by Dr. Manuela Joannou completely changed my life.

I believe it was in February when Dr. Joannou invited me back to join her at the site of Project Trauma Support to meet Bronwen from the True Patriot Love Foundation (TPL). I was informed that it was TPL that had funded my participation in Project Trauma Support.  Of course, I accepted the invite. I wanted to meet the people who made it possible for me to attend Project Trauma Support, and to thank them personally.  I was fortunate enough t be seated beside Bronwen and this is when she talked to me about the Best of Canada Expeditions.  She had my full attention!

Bronwen agreed to send me the paperwork to apply and as soon as it hit my inbox, I wasted no time getting everything filled out and sent in.  At the time, I wasn’t confident that I would be selected because the deadline for submissions was long past due, but I felt it couldn’t hurt to at least try.

The day came that I received an email from TPL stating that I was accepted to take part in The Cabot Expedition!   I couldn’t believe it!!  Right away, my thoughts started racing…How will I get to Newfoundland?  Do I need to start buying kayak equipment? Will my Chain of Command authorize me to go? Then I thought….I need to get myself in the best shape of my life!!

I was already an avid gym-goer so making it to the gym on a daily basis was not an issue for me, however, I knew that I needed to start changing things up a bit and adding some cardio because kayaking from The Bay of Exploits to Fogo Island was not going to be an easy task!

A few weeks had passed and I was sent my gear list.  I tore through every closet and tote that we had in the house in a desperate search to find all that I could that was on the list.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I must have packed 2 weeks in advance of the training camp, but also that I must have packed and unpacked my bags at least 5 times within that timeframe.  I was so excited to go, I could hardly contain myself.

Despite being given an overview of each days schedule, I was still not really sure what to expect.  For the first time, I started having reservations and my anxiety was high. I was going to be training for one heck of a kayak trip, and I had never really stepped foot in one before. I also am not a great swimmer.  What if the kayak tips over??

All of these concerns were quickly put to rest when I arrived at the camp and was greeted by the amazing people of TPL.  I found it amusing how I was able to pick out most of the Soldiers from the Civilians by just a glance.  I guess we each have a specific demeanor that comes through without words being said.

We started two of our mornings off with a light run/walk around the camp and one of those mornings was pretty cold and wet.  It had most of the Soldiers reminiscing about times throughout their careers when the weather was less than desirable and they had some Sgt barking down their necks that “If ain’t raining, we ain’t training” or “If it ain’t snowing, we ain’t going”. Although the  weather was less than stellar, it brought back a certain element of comfort too.

We spent most of our days out on the water honing our skills at the hands of expert guides in the field of kayaking.  We quickly picked up the basics and were paired up based on our skill levels.

On the second night, we were to pack up our kayaks and do a practice run at loading, unloading and setting up camp at the far end of the lake.  It was apparent once again that this was where the Soldiers found they excelled.  Before the guides could really give us any direction, we quickly had the tents set up and took over the cooking duties.  This has become ingrained in so many of us that we shared a feeling of uneasiness when our guides, Paul and Angus,said that they would take care of the dishes and clean up.

The next day, we were excited about getting back to the cabins to dry out our gear, and get to the much anticipated ‘mentoring part’ of the weekend schedule.  The Birkhman test that we had done prior to our arrival was used to analyze each of our personalities.  It was fun to explore those results as a team.  It was neat to see who we were most alike in the group, what motivated us, and what our stress triggers were. Mine was pretty bang on!  From these tests, we will be paired up with the best fit for our actual Expedition. I am looking forward to seeing who my partner will be!!

Later that day is what will go down as probably the most exciting part of the weekend for me. We watched our guides go into the freezing cold water and demonstrate a rescue for us. Then it was our turn to test the waters! I have never in my life felt my breathe be taken away by the coldness of water before. I may have cursed out loud when my body hit the water, and I thought my lungs were going to freeze up on me!! I obviously survived it, and it is an experience I will never forget! I just really hope I never have to experience it again.

Words cannot possibly express how grateful I am to be invited to participate in this expedition, and to be able to share those experiences with everyone back home. Until then, if anyone is looking for me, I can most likely be found in the local gym working on my cardio!