Leander Volz has created a place in his backyard where he can practice his archery skills. And if weather permits, the daily commute of 44 kilometres to and 44 kilometres from the barracks, is travelled by the Canadian ‘just’ on the bike. To get better in wheelchair rugby, he has also joined the local volleyball club. In other words, Volz is looking forward to the Invictus Games in the Netherlands, “I’m ready.”
By Edward Swier
In several aspects, this is good news. Volz was already feeling good physically, and the training also contributed to that. But above all, he can handle a lot more mentally. That was a big difference. “I was injured in Afghanistan in 2008. It took a lot of time for me to recover from this incident. I have always refused previous suggestions from my friends to join the Invictus Games, I was not ready for it. However, last year I started feeling a lot better and therefore decided to sign up.”
Realistic image of the injured
He is one of the 32 teammembers from Canada that will participate in the Invictus Games in The Hague from May 9 – 16. The group is very diverse, composed of both mentally and physically injured, sick as well. “We wanted to send the most realistic image of our injured. Thus, people will come in wheelchairs, athletes that are missing parts of their bodies, buddies with scars, visible and invisible. It is the first time to participate for everyone in the team”, says Volz, who was an infantryman, paratrooper and paragliding instructor, among others. In 2015, he received the Airborne Soldier of the Year Award.
Volz takes us back in time. Back to 2008. “I was part of a combat group in Kandahra, Afghanistan. We were in one of the most enemy-present territories, patrolling the ground for seven months. During the summer we were fighting almost every day. One day we were attacked, my boss was killed and some of my buddies were seriously injured. Although I was struck by the blow, I was not physically injured. However, I have been sitting with its weight for a long time. The sadness I felt was big. I lost really close friends, I realized it could have also easily been me. Especially knowing the fact that I was the lucky one had affected me a lot, it had an effect on my mental health. The diagnosis was ultimately PTSD, I had depression and everything else. I went through life with it for nine years and only realized a few years ago that I really had to go to a doctor for help. That helped me a lot. Every now and then I wonder why I waited so long to look for help, it was necessary”, Volz said.
That is precisely why he wants to tell his story and – by participating in the Invictus Games – show that if you seek help, you can get out on top. From his current position at the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group, he sees fellow sufferers every day. “We help wounded and sick soldiers with the search for the continuation of their career, inside or outside the defence. We don’t just say ‘we don’t need you anymore’, but we search for the answer with the person. We give them an education, build someone up again, with all necessary resources. And ensuring that someone, after a year or two, for example, is medically released and finds a new goal. I myself am responsible for a group of 22. ”
“I take care of them, keep an eye on them. They also all know my story, know that I have also been in their shoes and that I have been able to recover from it. It is amazing to be an example for other wounded and sick soldiers. That is precisely why I felt the obligation to register for the Invictus Games. It is proof that it does not matter that you are sick or injured or have been. You can really get up again. With my participation I want to make a difference, let others be aware that there are possibilities, that you can achieve something like the Invictus Games. You do not have to be restrained by your injury or illness. The fact that I and 31 others were selected from the 500 Canadian applications means a lot to me. It is a great honor to represent Canada. ”
Being an example
From his perspective, it is crucial to have good examples. “I want to be the example for others struggling with something. I waited nine years because I never had a good example. There was no one I looked up to, who might have experienced the same thing, and who told me it would be wise to talk to someone else. I always thought: you are a soldier, it is part of it. Like: deal with it. However, that is not realistic, you have to talk about it.”
He has the possibility of doing this with his friends from Soldier On, among others. Participation of the Canadian team in the Invictus Games has been made possible by the Soldier On program. By deploying the power of sport, Soldier On has already helped more than 5,000 veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces cope with their mental and physical injuries. Thanks to donations from the Canadian population, Soldier On has already paid around six million dollars to promote the recovery of CAF members and veterans. Volz: “Soldier On organizes sporting events, among others, almost every week for which the participation and accommodation costs for soldiers are fully accommodated for. It is an ideal opportunity to talk to others, to do something with your colleagues, and your friends. The goal is to get you up and running. You have to do something social, with others, and not lock yourself up at home. Soldier On is really an excellent organization. That they also take care of our participation in the Invictus Games only makes it more beautiful. ”
Brothers and sisters
Volz will personally participate in three sports at the Invictus Games, this will consist of: cycling, wheelchair rugby, and archery. “It is a relatively new sport for me. Every other day I shoot 300 arrows in my back yard and I cycle to work. I also practice my hand eye coordination with a ball in the wheelchair. I still find this really difficult.” He has trained a lot over the past months. Not to win medals per se. “Participating, that is what it’s about. Getting the best out of yourself.”
Since Canada is so large, it is almost impossible to be able to train together. “We keep in touch via WhatsApp, talk a bit about training and everyday things. Moreover, every few months there is a large training camp. Then we come together for about a week and train under the guidance of professional coaches and guiding staff.”
“As Canada we are not participating to win medals and rub it in other country’s faces. Nno, we are aware of our injuries, help others. There is an enormous need for us to help each other. It is very special. We have been brothers and sisters almost immediately from the moment we met. That’s what it does to you. We come to the Netherlands as a group, will have fun, do our best. But the training sessions are almost as important. We support the other person and if they don’t like it, we motivate each other.”
Sharing everything with each other
Leander Volz can’t wait. The Canadian is looking forward to the Invictus Games in the Netherlands. “Also because The Netherlands and Canada have had such a good relationship since the World War II. I am bringing two friends, guys that I went to Afghanistan with. We have been buddies for 11 years already. We live far away from each other, but share everything with each other – which is very important.”
This is the second episode of a series of all the participating Nations of the Invictus Games. Next week Giuseppe Erriquez from the Italian team will share his story.