Community Meet Team Canada’s Invictus Athletes: Master Corporal & Co-Captain Natacha Dupuis

Meet Team Canada’s Invictus Athletes: Master Corporal & Co-Captain Natacha Dupuis

“This is by far the best position I was ever given the opportunity to fill. I get to see each athlete improve and grow as athletes and as people and this is the best pay there is.”

The Invictus Games will take place in Toronto from September 23-30. Ill or injured service members, including 90 active or retired Canadian service members, will compete in 11 adaptive competitions. In the leadup to the games, we’re excited to introduce some of the athletes who will represent Canada.

Team Canada’s participation in the 2017 Invictus Games is supported by the Canadian Armed Forces’ Soldier On Program in partnership with Invictus Games Toronto.

In March of 2009, Master Corporal (Ret.) Natacha Dupuis was part of a squadron in Afghanistan departing its overnight position when an IED struck the vehicle behind hers.

Things needed to be done. In the midst of chaos, a process still had to be followed. As first responders on the scene, Natacha’s team was responsible for administering aid to three injured comrades and carrying out preparations for Troopers Corey Hayes and Jack Bouthillier, both of whom were killed in the explosion.

From the explosion to final evacuation, 20 minutes elapsed, for Natacha, “the hardest 20 minutes of my life, minutes that are still present at times.”  

In the moment, Natacha carried out the duties for which she was trained, but remained haunted by the fact that, “Corey and Jack died on the hill I called the ‘Appear Clear’ on.”

Team co-captains Natacha Dupuis and Simon Mailloux at sprint practice, Victoria, BC in April 2017. Image Courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces

No matter how much Natacha could put that day in perspective through time and therapy, dissecting every factor from the equipment on hand, time, and how the IED could have gone undetected, the question of whether or not she could have done more still lingered.

Upon her return home, Master Corporal Dupuis was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I was isolated and going through physical and mental symptoms such as panic attacks, insomnia, flashbacks, and night sweats,” Natacha describes.

It was a radical change of routine for the native of Longueuil, Quebec, who had dreams of joining the military from a young age, enrolling in Cadet Corp 2938 in St-Constant, Quebec at the age of 12. From that moment, Natacha never really stopped. She would serve as a Crewman with the Reserves in 1997 and join the Forces in 2002, eventually serving tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

“After my diagnosis,” Natacha says, “I remember thinking that life had no more to offer. I lost my career as well as my identity.” Part of that loss was her relationship with athletics.

Soldier On, which supports rehabilitation and recovery for injured soldiers through sport, provided Natacha with support through simple opportunities like providing a mountain bike, which she says “helped me get out of the house and fend off isolation.”

Natacha was also a participant in a relay carrying the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan from CFB Trenton to Ottawa. The experience marked a major breakthrough in enabling Natacha to recognize that she was not alone in her struggles and in building the courage to speak openly about PTSD.

With Soldier On, Natacha slowly won back her ability to focus on a mission and never look back. She embraced a subsequent role as an ambassador for the Canada Army run as another chance to raise awareness around PTSD.

Jason Israel and Team Canada co-captain Natacha Dupuis sprint in Victoria, BC, during Team Canada’s first training camp in April, 2017.

Last year, at her first Invictus Games, Natacha claimed three medals, two gold and one bronze, in Powerlifting and Track and Field. “What touched me the most at the games was seeing all the ill and injured giving their personal best and how everyone was cheered equally,” Natacha remembers.  “I actually saw the last competitors being cheered louder than first.”

When she represents Canada again at the 2017 Games in Toronto, Natacha will serve as Co-Captain in addition to competing in Track and Field and Rowing Events.

Her duties as Co-Captain marks another return to the type of leadership role at which she excelled during her military career, not only acting as an example for comrades but also “being there for my teammates as much as I can.”

More than anything, her role is to “use my experience and my story to prove that it’s possible to regain control over your life despite adversity if you’re ready to take action, get appropriate support, and show a whole lot of courage and resiliency.”  

Natacha at track practice, Victoria BC, April 2017. Image courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces.

In training for the Invictus Games and her ongoing leadership within Soldier On, Natacha has witnessed the incredible recovery injured soldiers can make from the most damaging of setbacks. The Invictus Games are an opportunity to share that experience and those stories with all Canadians.

“This is by far the best position I was ever given the opportunity to fill,” Natacha says of her Co-Captain duties. “I get to see each athlete improve and grow as athletes and as people and this is the best pay there is.”

For herself, Natacha knows that her recovery requires a lifetime of work, but is encouraged by her Invictus journey. Once again, she’s not slowing down, saying “I now hope to keep growing myself and inspire others to join the movement through my public speaking and competitions.”

  • Ravi Singh