It’s funny how life can be transformed in a moment. Or a series of moments, like those that led Chris Power to the base of Mount Everest with a group of strangers.
Last September at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, Chris, 37, an Army Officer in the Military Police with 16 years of service, sat in an auditorium with business leaders he didn’t know, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) he couldn’t relate to.
With his medical release eminent, Chris had not yet fully accepted that he would soon be a veteran. It’s not like he was avoiding the next stage — procrastination isn’t a characteristic of a military officer about to become a life coach. He had already started the formal training process with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and John Maxwell certification. Chris knew that leaving the military was the right move. His mental health had diminished after multiple postings in Canada and time in Kuwait, Poland, Germany, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Being the right move, however, didn’t make the transition an easy one.
That’s why he’d agreed to attend last September’s Invictus Games Toronto event at the ROM where keynote speaker Lt.-Col. (retired) David Quick was to speak about his active duty and new civilian life in the business world. David spoke about being the Soldier Team Captain on the TPL Expedition to the Magnetic North Pole in 2014. That trek saw 24 business leaders and 12 injured veterans ski, unsupported, to the North Pole — the largest polar expedition of its kind. He and Shaun Francis, CEO and Chair of Medcan, became friends, and Shaun spoke about their friendship during the introductory remarks.
Chris was listening.
“There was talk that night about life after the military … and mountains. And it resonated with me,”
remembers Chris. “Everything I used to be, my identity and sense of self, were gone after I left the military. I had the help of Veteran Affairs and the military medical system, but I still wasn’t seeing what my future outside of the military was going to look like. Then, on that night, I heard Shaun say a few words about how he had been challenged to create the True Patriot Love Foundation (TPL) and to bring the Invictus Games to Toronto. It really spoke to me that so many people were out there raising money and support to help people like me transition into civilian life.”
During his remarks, Shaun spoke about an upcoming expedition to Himalayas in April 2018, when active and veteran members of the CAF would be brought together with business and community leaders to Mount Everest Base Camp and the 20,000-foot summit of Nepal’s Lobuche East. The participants would face physical, emotional, and mental roadblocks together as they raised funds and awareness for True Patriot Love’s mission is to inspire every Canadian to contribute to the resilience and well-being of our military and veteran families. Previous expeditions, including the Himalayas (2012), North Pole (2014), Antarctica (2016) and the Best of Canada Series (2017), had raised more than $6 million.
“Through talks that night with the folks at TPL, talks with my wife and after a lot of introspection, , I applied to the trip. It was going to be my first big physical and mental challenge outside the military” said Chris. “Applying for the program was the first time I had to come to terms with where I was at in my life.”
As Chris was taking new steps toward a civilian life — he said the mental preparation was the most important aspect of his training — a wife and husband pair committed to philanthropy, Ellie and Ben Rusonik, were gearing up as well.
“When we heard about the TPL expedition series, it was a really easy decision to say yes,” recalls Ellie, who called it a once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventure.
Chris would meet Ellie and Ben a few months later at the expedition’s training camp in Canmore, AB, and then again at training sessions in Ontario.
Together, over 18 days, they ventured from the Nepali foothills to higher altitudes against the backdrop of the Khumbu Valley and the Himalayas. The 21-member team (not including guides) endured challenging environments and altitudes amid the rustic beauty and rare contact with the local Sherpa culture.
Living for three weeks with members of the military gave Ellie and Ben insight into life after the military.
“We developed a better understanding of, and are even more inspired to support, the men and women who serve our country,” the couple said. “Some of the soldiers on the expedition – those we now consider close friends – are struggling. We hope that by being a part of this expedition, we eased their struggle in some small way. In turn, they inspired us with their determination, resilience and unwavering commitment to the team. We gained as much from them as they did from us.”
“This expedition wasn’t about making it to the summit of Lobuche East, it was about proving to myself that I am more than a military rank,” he says. “Every step, every conversation, every experience along this journey made me proud to be who I am today and has inspired me to dedicate my efforts to help serving, transitioning and retired Canadian Armed Forces members discover who they are beyond the rank.”
Upon returning to Canada, Chris narrowed the focus of his business as a Speaker, Trainer and Coach with Power Leadership Consulting, to members of the military and their families who are looking for more meaning. His mission statement: “Working with veterans and families to find purpose in life after rank (PILAR)”. He considers Ellie and Ben close friends and he and his wife look forward to their next double date. Chris continues to support his health through resilient mental health practices and regular physical fitness. This TPL Expedition Himalayas successfully concluded on April 18th and has so far raised more than $1 million. TPL’s next expedition is to Orizaba in 2019.