FULL OF FIGHT
Wounded warrior joins ‘unconquered’ in upcoming Invictus Games
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