Soldier who suffered traumatic brain injury competes in Invictus Games
Former Fredericton soldier enters cycling and indoor rowing events at games in Toronto this week
Michel LeBlanc knows how to turn a bad situation into something good — it's a skill he learned during two of his humanitarian tours in Haiti and the Philippines.
He's proving this by competing in Toronto this week at the Invictus Games, a multi-sport event and conference for military veterans who have been injured or are sick. Prince Harry founded the games in 2014 to help wounded veterans with their recovery.
"Things ain't as bad as they seem," said LeBlanc, a Fredericton native.
But he didn't always think that way.
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Ten days before the end of his last tour, in the Philippines, the crew arranged to get a shower built.
Carpenters erected a wooden platform for the latrine, and LeBlanc was filling the latrine with water when the structure collapsed from the weight.
The former Base Gagetown soldier, who had been on top of the structure, fell more than three metres, landing on his back on concrete.
LeBlanc was in pain everywhere and X-rays were done on his back. It wasn't until several months later that an MRI revealed a traumatic brain injury.
"I don't remember coming home," LeBlanc said. "I came home before Christmas, I don't remember Christmas.
"There was a good month where I don't remember anything."
Following the accident, he also lost part of his eyesight. He was passing out, was dizzy and had a hard time concentrating. But he kept going to work.
"I'd come home and I would pass out and hit my head on the closet door," he said.
He had to take a work course but had a hard time completing it. Back at home, things got worse.
Everyday seems to be out of my comfort zone, but I'm trying my hardest to just battle through it.-Michel LeBlanc
LeBlanc couldn't understand why he couldn't do things he did before the accident. This led to a depression.
"I did one week of work and then I came home and that night I collapsed and hit my head again," he said.
"I never worked since that day … it's like my concussion multiplied [and] I was worse then than I ever was."
LeBlanc was released from the military.
"My whole life was turned upside down, to pretty much lose your identity, try to figure out who you are now — it's still a struggle," he said.
Gaining a new identity
But he didn't give up hope and has found a new identity through cycling and indoor rowing, which he will be doing later this week at the Games.
LeBlanc, who is competing for the first time at the Games, is one of 10 New Brunswickers taking part in the event. About 550 athletes from around the world are competing.
"Everyday seems to be out of my comfort zone," he said, "but I'm trying my hardest to just battle through it."
The local athlete discovered his love for cycling about a year ago through Soldier On, a special program aimed at helping veterans who retired because of medical reasons. They have all suffered injuries, both physical and mental.
His first bike ride was about 100 kilometres from Fredericton Junction to Saint Andrews, with hills throughout the entire journey.
LeBlanc, said he loved every moment of the experience — both on the bike and in nature. He's been training ever since.
"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done," he said.
"By the end of it they were like, 'You need to buy a bike.'"