Riding for the veterans

Ladysmith pair join on horseback ride across Canada

Paul Nichols leads fellow Canadian Forces veterans at the start of their cross-country ride at the B.C. legislature last Monday.

Paul Nichols leads fellow Canadian Forces veterans at the start of their cross-country ride at the B.C. legislature last Monday.

It may pale when compared to the journey up Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.

But a pair of Ladysmith women have embarked on a trek of their own in the hopes they can cement respect for the sacrifices of our soldiers in the forefront of people’s minds.

On April 13, Quesnel rancher Paul Nichols kicked off a 211-day cross-Canada horseback ride in Victoria to introduce a new generation of veterans to the public and seek their support.

Riding with him as part of his support team were a pair of Ladysmith residents: tour manager Cathleen McMahon and former Chronicle editor Lindsay Chung.

McMahon said her inspiration was very specific, the following post by a young woman on Facebook about the local Remembrance Day ceremony:  “Why would I waste my time. No one fought for my freedom.  I was born free.”

“I’ve never forgotten the feeling I had when I read that. I felt confused.  It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me,” McMahon said. “I couldn’t believe that this person could have grown up into young adulthood without the understanding of what our previous generations sacrificed in order for the freedom we have today to be taken for granted so easily.”

That memory remained when she met Nichols, a veteran who served with Canadian troops during ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“Our Canadian troops do a hard job for us, and when they choose to transition back into civilian life, some of them struggle and lose their way,” Nichols said. “And I can tell you from personal experience that a heartfelt thank-you and timely support from the community during that time of transition can be life-changing. So my job through this foundation is to put as many Canadian veterans in the saddle as I can.”

Accompanied by other B.C. veterans and his wife Terry, a therapeutic riding instructor, Nichols plans to connect with 700 veterans in his eight-month journey, which ends in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

McMahon and Chung will both be shadowing the riders in an RV and working with promotions and public relations during the event. McMahon is bringing her kids along for parts of the lengthy ride.

“They are on a mission to change the faces of Canadian veterans.  To bring awareness to those who have fought since the World Wars and tell the stories that need to be heard to understand how to help them,” McMahon said.

“I’d like you to meet his wife Terry who thought she would be getting back the same man she sent off to fight for Canada, only to realize that she would have to rediscover the person who arrived back on her doorstep.  A man who questioned his choices to fight for people who believe they were “born free”.

Nichols was visibly emotional as he was sent off from the legislature by B.C. Lt.-Gov Judith Guichon.

“That awareness will create change, and with that change I believe that we can lower the incidence and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder, lower the incidence of family breakup and I think we can lower the incidence of veteran suicide,” he said.

To follow the ride’s progress, see their website at www.communitiesforveterans.com.

— with a file from Tom Fletcher

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