Every injured Veteran follows their own road to recovery. For Natacha Dupuis, hers led back to a childhood love of athletics and, eventually, an opportunity to once again represent Canada internationally—this time, under far different circumstances.
Natacha always knew she wanted to join the military. By the time she was 18, she was in the Reserves. Then, in 2002, she joined the Regular Force, eventually serving in Bosnia and completing two tours in Afghanistan.
Natacha saw 13 vehicles explode in Afghanistan. Each incident took an emotional toll, but one in particular stands out. The date was March 20, 2009.
“We were on a week-long mission, and the vehicle behind me exploded with an IED, killing two of my brothers in arms ... We were the first responders.”
That incident triggered a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Natacha suffered from severe insomnia and nightmares, but persevered and finished the remaining two months of her rotation. “I still don’t know how I did it,” she says. “Every day I thought about quitting, but I just couldn’t do that to the team.”
When she returned to Canada, her symptoms worsened to the point where she says she was in “total trauma” and unable to care for herself. Natacha is grateful for the help she received from the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) during those dark days.
“I couldn’t even make toast. I needed a lot of care and treatment, which I got.”
The road to recovery
Education was an important part of Natacha’s recovery. As a tank driver and a gunner, her skills weren’t easily transferable to the civilian workforce. With help from the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP), she earned a college diploma in security management—a major achievement for Natacha, who didn’t have a high school diploma when she entered the military.
“It’s really important to know and use all the support we are entitled to,” she says, adding that the help she received through VAC’s Rehabilitation Services and Vocational Assistance Program made a real difference for her.
But, something was missing. Natacha’s weight increased and her desire to be part of the outside world waned. She was offered a spot on Team Canada for the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, which gave her the push she needed. “If I’m going to be representing Team Canada, I thought, this is my chance to regain control. Not just my physical health, but also my mental health.”
She won three medals (two gold) at those games, which set the table for her inspired performance as co-captain of Team Canada during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, where she earned four medals, including three golds.
“I never thought that wearing the Maple Leaf again would be possible. I thought my life was over. I thought I had nothing more to give. Going on to represent Canada once again, that made me really proud. The Invictus Games were my Olympics.”
Natacha still has symptoms of PTSD, but says she is much better equipped to deal with them. She remains involved with the Canadian Army Run and the Soldier On organization. Employed full-time in the federal public service (hired through the Veterans Hiring Act), she continues to pass along her message of hope through public speaking engagements.
“It feels really good to use a very traumatic experience and turn it into something positive where I can help others. It helps me make sense of it all.”
Natacha has shared her story in the hope that others will see themselves in both her struggles and successes and will reach out for help when required. We recognize that we need to do more to improve supports available to Veterans and family members. Our mission is to provide the support you and your family need during your transition to reach your goals the way Natacha has reached hers. Thank you for sharing with us, Natacha!