Remembering sacrifices, rebuilding lives

Posted on Sunday, October 29, 2017

Hélène LeScelleur wearing glasses and military combat uniform with a military vehicle in the background.

Hélène LeScelleur (MSW ’14), a 26-year veteran, joined the military at age 17, after the ban on women joining the infantry was lifted. Photo: Supplied by H. LeScelleur

By Linda Scales

Captain (retired) Hélène LeScelleur will deliver a modern-day Remembrance Day message about the men and women who go into combat and the sacrifices they make  at uOttawa’s ceremony on Friday, November 10 at 9:30 a.m., on the front steps of Tabaret Hall.

LeScelleur, a 26-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, joined the military at age 17, when the ban on women joining the infantry was lifted. In 2007, she was injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, and medically discharged almost 10 years later.

Now a doctoral student at the Faculty of Social Sciences, LeScelleur competed for Canada at the 2017 Toronto Invictus Games in track, rowing and wheelchair rugby. Below is some of her recent conversation with the Gazette.

Her PhD studies

The PhD was not a goal in my life, but there were people at uOttawa who saw potential in me. At the time I didn’t believe in myself because I’d been medically discharged from the military and thought I wasn’t good enough. To have people believe in me was an eye opener. That was my situation, and it’s the same for a lot of other ex-military people around me.

My research is about members of the Canadian military with operational stress injuries, who must transition to civilian life and the difficulties they encounter as they rebuild their identities. The current trend is just to focus on the vocational aspect of the transition. However, many people sign up as young adults and only know life in the military, so the “return to civilian life” is complex. I know some who have committed suicide because they were so lost.

Post-traumatic stress injury

It’s something I’m going to be battling my entire life. I’ve developed some coping strategies, because I know situations can arise at any time and I could have relapses. However, I know I’m more capable now of overcoming them. With this kind of injury, the goal is to be stable, have a healthy lifestyle and get on with your life. It’s important not to let yourself be defined by your injury.

Hélène LeScelleur, seated in a wheelchair, reaches for a ball with one hand while a male competitor, also in a wheelchair, tries to take it from her.

Hélène LeScelleur represented Canada at the Toronto Invictus Games in September. She competed in track, rowing and wheelchair rugby. Photo: Stephen J. Thorne/Legion Magazine

Invictus Games

I was in therapy and taking medication to help me with my recovery, and the acceptance letter to be on Team Canada at the Invictus Games was the spark I needed to push forward in my life.

The Games were all about coming together as a group and finding camaraderie again,  not about winning medals. They were about bringing together people struggling in isolation with mental and physical injuries.

Wheelchair rugby was scary at first because of the clashing of the wheelchairs’ metal. I thought it would be a trigger for me because of the explosion in Afghanistan. I also felt a little bit ashamed that I was able bodied, because I didn’t want to minimize the situation of other people.  However, Invictus teams must be made-up of players with both mental injuries and physical injuries. I love the sport and continue to play with the Ottawa Stingers Wheelchair Rugby Club — and I’m going to apply to go to the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.

uOttawa’s Remembrance Day ceremony

My message will first be about remembering the loss, but also about the importance of making available some space for the wounded by letting them shine as individuals, not just as people with injuries.

We want to be recognized for our sacrifice; we don’t want pity. Even if you don’t agree with the military mission, respect that some people choose military careers and are ready to sacrifice their lives. General Jon Vance’s recent remarks about the military redesigning itself to make room for those of us who can still work, but cannot be deployed, will change this eventually.

November 11 national ceremony

I will try to go, although the crowds and the guns are enormous triggers for me. I last went in 2008 when I was aide-de-camp to former governor general Michaëlle Jean. I found that ceremony painful because I was struggling in my life.

When you’re in the military, it’s impossible to ignore Remembrance Day. When I joined at 17, I was in Montreal for the ceremony and wondered why people were crying after all these years. Now, I know.

Hélène LeScelleur will participate in a panel discussion about post-traumatic stress disorder on November 8, following an address by Lieutenant-General (retired) Roméo Dallaire. The event, which is part of the Shawn and Khush Singh Distinguished Lecture Series, is sold out.

An aerial-styled photo of the large Canadian Invictus Games contingent at Rideau Hall.

As well as working toward her PhD, Hélène LeScelleur volunteers for Wounded Warriors Canada, a veterans support group. She’s seeking ways to ease the transition of soldiers into civilian life. Photo: Office of the Governor General


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