Defence Minister Peter MacKay (second from left) joins a contingent of Canadian veterans, including Capt. Mark Chamberlain (far left) and Sgt. Eric Jenkinson (far right), during a recent training ride along Toronto's waterfront. On May 20, the team, sponsored by Wounded Warriors, is set to join 'Help for Heroes' in Portsmouth, England, for a bike tour to historic battlefields in France and Belgium. It’s known as the 'Big Battlefield Bike Ride.'

Wounded Canadians to tour famous European battlefields

Canadian veteran Mark Chamberlain is training for a mission this spring. But it won’t put him in harm’s way.

“This was a way to get the soldiers together … to talk about something that was common to them,” he said.

On May 20, 21 Canadian soldiers will join Britain’s “Help for Heroes” in Portsmouth, England, for a bike tour to historic battlefields in France and Belgium. It’s known as “the Big Battlefield Bike Ride.”

The Canadian contingent is sponsored by Wounded Warriors, a non-profit organization (founded in 2006), that helps Canadian Forces members who’ve been wounded in their service to Canada. Wounded Warriors’ primary focus is to provide programs to help those with mental health issues.

Capt. Chamberlain served seven months in Afghanistan; he readily admits he suffers from operational stress injuries (OSI). He’s preparing for the bike tour in Europe.

“Combat and mental injuries aren’t something to be ashamed of,” he said. “Together as a team (soldiers) we can get through these types of things.

The six-day journey will lead the veterans through famous battlefields in France, such as Caen, Dieppe, Amiens, Arras, Ypres and Dunkirk. During the tour, the vets will attend a special ceremony at Vimy Ridge highlighting the journey.

Capt. Wayne Johnston is founder of Wounded Warriors and says there is more than one reason for this cycle tour in Europe.

“Generally guys with OSI start to lose their own self worth and their own focus on life,” he said. “You go every week to see your psychologist. You take your pills everyday sometimes wondering when am I going to get off this ride.”

The 21 Canadian soldiers booked on the tour have been training for many weeks to prepare for the six-week, 550-kilometre-long endeavour.

“What this ride has done for the individuals is it has given them focus… helping them build back self pride and self worth… When these guys get together they’re blooming. I don’t know how to describe it,” Johnston said.

Today, six members of the team tried out their Cervelo S2 bikes. The Canadian bicycle manufacturer has donated $100,000 worth of bikes. The soldiers met at Cherry Beach in Toronto and rode to Sugar Beach located at the foot of Jarvis Street.

Sgt. Eric Jenkinson served in Afghanistan for seven months in 2010. He said this is important to him because he believes that mental health is something that needs to be addressed and treated,.

“People return from overseas deployments with mental health issues and we need to be able to be supportive of them,” Jenkinson said.

Capt. Johnston added that the families of OSI veterans will also benefit from the event.

“A soldier’s wife called me to thank me for helping her husband to reconnect with her son. How do you measure that? There are some things in life you can’t measure and that’s one of them,” Johnston said.