Monday September 25, 2017

UPDATED: After 18 surgeries, Canadian 'Mega Traun' set to compete in Invictus Games

Mike Trauner is part of an elite group of 90 Canadian soldiers — both active and retired — participating in the Invictus Games, underway in Toronto.

Mike Trauner is part of an elite group of 90 Canadian soldiers — both active and retired — participating in the Invictus Games, underway in Toronto. (Leaf Cuffe)

Listen 23:36

UPDATE: Since speaking with The Current on Sept. 25, Mike 'Mega Traun' Trauner has gone on to win two gold medals in rowing at the Invictus games.

Here's what Trauner had to say before he won gold:

Read Story Transcript

"I wake up in the morning, I see the war. Every time I go to bed, I see the war. It doesn't go away.  There's nothing I can do about it.  I can't escape the past and it will be with me until the day I die." 

Mike Trauner is part of an elite group of 90 Canadian soldiers — both active and retired — participating in the Invictus Games in Toronto.

The Invictus Games were set up by Prince Harry to give injured soldiers a place to compete not as warriors but as athletes. 

BRITAIN-ROYALS/INVICTUSGAMES

Britain's Prince Harry speaks to athletes ahead of the Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 22, 2017. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

There are 550 soldiers competing from 12 countries around the world. And every soldier has a story.

Trauner retired from the military in May.  As a master corporal, he had deployed to Bosnia and Afghanistan.   

It was on that mission on Dec. 5, 2008, that Trauner was blown into the air by a roadside bomb. 

"Unfortunately, I remember the entire incident," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"The roadside bomb after it went off. I remember flying through the air. I didn't know I actually got blown up at that time, but I was airborne for about four seconds." 

Mike Trauner and Leah Cuffe

Mike Trauner and his wife Leah Cuffe have been through a lot together. Cuffe says there's a huge change in her husband now that he feels like part of a team again, competing in the Invictus Games. (Leah Cuffe)

Trauner explains he landed in a crater about the size of a truck. He found out later it was two large bombs strapped together that went off. 

"The size of the blast initially was what saved my life, if you believe it or not. It's because it threw me out of the main debris field from the blast," he says.

Trauner lost both legs and injured both his arms. His left arm was broken in three places and left hand broken in 25 places. At first, he thought it was one of his friends who was the amputee. 

"I didn't realize it was me ... I raised my arms. My arms were smoking.  My gloves were melted to my hands."

Trauner actually died twice while in recovery.  Once in Afghanistan and once at the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. 

Trauner's wife Leah Cuffe remembers vividly the moment her phone rang at 4:45 a.m.

"I knew right away that something horrible had happened. I was hoping that it wasn't Mike," she tells Tremonti.

When she arrived in Germany, she says it was clear how serious things were.

"There was a team of between 25 and 30 people waiting just for me," she explains.

Mike Trauner

Retired soldier Mike Trauner trains six days a week, for hours a day. His wife, Leah Cuffe, often trains with him. (Brett Throop)

Cuffe says the hallway to get to Mike felt "like the forever walk." It was a bright, white, long hallway, and when she saw the only Canadian flag, she knew it was her husband's room.

Trauner was awake when she went in and said right away,  "I am so sorry."   

That sense of guilt has stayed with him.

"I wanted my wife just to be my wife, my partner, and now she has to be this long-term caregiver.  I do feel guilt about that. I hate the idea.  I can't travel without her. I can't do a lot of things without her," he tells Tremonti.

The making of 'Mega Traun'

From Sept. 26-27, Trauner will represent Canada in hand cycling and rowing.  

It was Prince Harry who challenged him to become a competitor.  

"The Invictus Games is all about you guys. One of my proudest moments is serving my country as a soldier and I just want to keep that tradition going," Harry told Trauner.

"And then I accepted his challenge to join the team, and I shook his hand."

Invictus Games - Harry Speech5:45

It's been a long journey for Trauner to get to this day. He's had 18 surgeries and 18 blood transfusions.  He describes being trapped in his house for a year-and- a-half. 

His friends call him "Mega Traun." 

"My last name is Trauner, but I'm mega-sized, I'm six feet four, over 200 pounds, so the guys just called me 'Mega Traun.' After the injuries — now that I have bionic legs — the name kind of just stuck:  half man, half machine," Trauner explains.

Trauner trains six days a week, for hours a day. 

"It's intense, but, you know, what my job was infantry before which was no easy task."

Cuffe says she's delighted to see such a huge change in her husband now. 

"He's got a goal now.  He feels like part of a team again ... The dark days of being stuck in the house for a year-and-a-half are gone."

This segment is part of our season-long series Adaptation looking at the surprising, innovative, and sometimes ill-advised ways we accommodate a rapidly shifting world. 

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Lara O'Brien.