FULL OF FIGHT

Wounded war­rior joins ‘un­con­quered’ in up­com­ing In­vic­tus Games

Toronto Sun - - FRONT PAGE - CHRISTINA BLIZ­ZARD Spe­cial to the Sun

It was a New Year’s light show like no other that Phil Badanai had seen.

It was his first de­ploy­ment to Croa­tia in 1994 with the Royal Canadian Reg­i­ment.

Com­ing back from an es­cort mis­sion on Dec. 31, he was am­bushed by 25 Ser­bian sol­diers.

“My Jeep got hit 54 times in the back,” Badanai re­called in a re­cent in­ter­view. “I got shot twice and had some shrap­nel in my right arm.”

When he looked around, he re­al­ized his part­ner, John Tas­cione, had been shot seven times — four in the back of the head.

With two tires blown out, Badanai drove 20 km to the near­est med­i­cal sta­tion, all the while try­ing to help his wounded buddy.

“His ear was hang­ing about an inch-and-a-half from his head,” he said. “At the time, all I was re­ally think­ing about was get­ting to a med­i­cal sta­tion. I was hold­ing John’s ear to his head.”

He got to the hos­pi­tal, grabbed his part­ner and both their ri­fles, and walked in.

The medics came out and grabbed Tas­cione and I was walk­ing in be­hind him.

That’s when Badanai ad­mit­ted that he had also been shot in the back.

Medics grabbed his ri­fle and helped him in­side.

He served two more tours in Croa­tia be­fore re­turn­ing to Canada and re­mus­ter­ing as a mil­i­tary fire­fighter.

It was only later he re­al­ized not all his wounds could be seen.

Grow­ing up, he’d al­ways been pas­sive and slow to anger.

“Sud­denly, I was very an­gry — ex­plo­sive an­gry, al­most to a rage, and an­gry all the time,” he says.

In the army, that ag­gres­sion had been masked by the na­ture of his work. But as a fire­fighter, he found ev­ery­one else was calm and quiet.

“That’s when I started notic­ing it and say­ing, ‘This isn’t nor­mal,’ ” he says.

And so, his long, tor­tu­ous jour­ney back to health be­gan. His ad­mis­sion that he was ill and needed treat­ment had reper­cus­sions with the army. They told him he could no longer de­ploy — a tough pill to swal­low for Badanai, who had en­listed at 19, right out of school. Even­tu­ally, he found a civil­ian job.

“I got out on my terms, not theirs,” says Badanai, who now works for Bom­bardier. “The day was clear­ing out, they (the Armed Forces) said, ‘Your re­ten­tion has been ap­proved.’ Here I was fight­ing to stay in the mil­i­tary, and they’re not I fight­ing to keep me.”

That’s when he found In­vic­tus.

“I knew I needed a change in my life. I didn’t know what I needed to do, but I needed a change,” he said.

An­other friend and for­mer reg­i­men­tal col­league, Steve Daniel, en­cour­aged him to take part in the In­vic­tus Games.

Daniel com­peted in the Bei­jing Par­a­lympics and in last year’s In­vic­tus Games.

The driv­ing force be­hind In­vic­tus is Prince Harry, who him­self served two tours in Afghanistan.

The goal of the Games is to use sport to inspire re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ser­vice­men and women who’ve suf­fered phys­i­cal or men­tal in­juries as a re­sult of their ser­vice.

The first Games took place in Lon­don in 2015.

Last year, they were in Or­lando, where 500 ath­letes from 14 na­tions took part.

This year, the Games are in Toronto, Sept. 23-30.

More than 550 ath­letes from 17 na­tions will com­pete here.

“I needed some­thing to chal­lenge me,” Badanai said. He’ll com­pete in row­ing, wheel­chair rugby and wheel­chair ten­nis. Just as Badanai was get­ting into train­ing for In­vic­tus, disas­ter struck again.

On April 28, he suf­fered a stroke and was in hos­pi­tal for five days.

“They can’t find any cause for it, but the doc­tor said, ‘I’m not kid­ding, you had a stroke.’ ”

Im­me­di­ately af­ter he got out of hos­pi­tal, he was back train­ing.

What does In­vic­tus mean to him?

“I knew I needed a change. I needed some­thing to strive for,” he said.

In­vic­tus has re­con­nected him with peo­ple who’ve shared the same kind of ex­pe­ri­ences he has — all the way to its founder, Prince Harry.

“Harry served in the mil­i­tary. He de­ployed. He gets it,” Badanai points out.

Harry trained in Wain­wright, Alta., and is known among army types for hang­ing around with them.

He was one of the boys. “He was a sol­dier first — be­fore he was a prince,” Badanai says.

“To me he’s blaz­ing his own path. Some­times it’s not very prince-like, but as a sol­dier, I get it,” he said.

“He’s seen troops be­ing in­jured. He knows how sports can help the heal­ing process — be­cause you get kind of lost,” he said.

“With PTSD, you get lost. I had a rough cou­ple of years.”

So many for­mer mil­i­tary per­son­nel have sto­ries just like this.

They gave their all in ser­vice of their coun­try.

And their gov­ern­ment didn’t al­ways step up to help them.

Now, let’s show our sup­port and get be­hind In­vic­tus.

With PTSD, you get lost. I had a rough cou­ple of years.” Phil Badanai

VERON­ICA HENRI/TORONTO SUN

VERON­ICA HENRI/TORONTO SUN

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