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Honouring a Friend - A Rucking Hike

I joined the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve in 2018. It seemed like a good job to have during school, so on a whim I called in, spoke to a recruiter, and before I knew it, I’d enrolled. Since then, I’ve been to Basic Training, career-related coursing, and various other opportunities. It’s been a rewarding ride.

Upon joining the military, you quickly come to learn that the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) is a world unto itself. From logistics, to IT, to intelligence, and so on, service members complete much of it in-house. More so than that, the military has its own traditions, language (so many acronyms), and culture. A fundamental tenet of CAF life is teamwork, and the idea that we are in essence one big extended family. Everybody tries their best to support one another and help each other succeed. The demands of military life are often unique, and it’s been amazing to see how members rise to these challenges, find ways to be successful and help others do the same. Truly, the idea of “Service Before Self” lives on in the CAF. The bonds forged through deployments, training, day to day work, and more, run deep and strong.  

Given these bonds and shared experiences, the loss of a member is a deep, profound pain. For my unit The HMCS Star, we lost an integral part of our family last summer. On July 10, 2019, our coworker and friend Matthew Pinczak passed away. Matt was in many ways what you hope for from a friend, and a military member. He was dedicated, hardworking, supportive, and somebody who fought for what he believed in. Our unit motto is “Diligence” and that’s what Matt was in every sense of the word. Those who knew him still deeply feel his absence and we miss him greatly. From time to time, I’d be pulling a file out and see an email or note from him, and it’s hard knowing who he was but having to face that he isn’t anymore.  

There’s nothing I can do to bring Matt back, but I can honour who he was and what he stood for. Fortunately, when you really want something, the universe seems to conspire to help you get it. About a month ago I chanced on an article about “Misogi”. It is a modern-day approach to mental and physical fitness loosely based on an old Japanese ideology. The basic idea is that once a year you try to do something that is so difficult for you and has such a low chance of success, that in its pursuit you inevitably expand your conceptualization of what is possible. I thought it was intriguing and started talking about it to my friend and co-worker Chris Bonnell.

With both of us being in the military, we quickly settled on doing some forms of ruck marching (i.e. walking with loaded backpacks or simply “getting your gear from point A to point B using a backpack”). Ruck marching, or rucking, (tabing for the British, stomping for the Aussies, or…) is a critical component of militaries worldwide and pretty much every service member has some form of anecdote from doing them. Thus, the physical journey was easy to settle. 

In this challenge, we knew that we needed a purpose. When the load gets too heavy, the feet won’t move anymore and the mind starts to collapse, the “why” needs to be stronger than those obstacles. What Matt stood for and what he means to us became that motivation. Matt was deeply involved in sports at our unit, and with him being a diver, physical fitness in all aspects was a big part of his life. So we wanted to honour him and his passion by rucking for him and supporting a cause that he himself would’ve believed in. 

To that end, we found Soldier On, a CAF charity that helps injured former and current service members return to an active lifestyle by providing funding, support and organization to a community. Not only that, but several Paralympians and Invictus Games participants are amongst their alumni. Ergo, we wanted to channel Matt’s passion and dedication by pushing ourselves to raise money for a cause and idea close to his heart. As a charity, Soldier On spends an astonishing 97% of funds raised on the causes it supports. As military members, we can honestly say that it does good work and provides a lot of positive change in our community. We feel excited and encouraged to be partnering with them on this endeavour of ours. Not only that, but all the money we raise will be donated to Soldier On in Matt’s name.

On Saturday July 25th, starting somewhere between midnight and 4 am, my friend Chris and I plan to ruck march from HMCS York in Toronto to HMCS Star in Hamilton, a distance of some 70 km or so. With both of us being part of HMCS Star, we figured that’d be our North Star, so to speak, to head to. With HMCS York being the next Navy unit over, we thought to connect the two. Matt would’ve been 31 today, so in his honour we will each carry a 31-pound loaded ruck on our backs for the duration of our trek.   

Our goal is to raise $2000 between each of us. I understand that we’re in the middle of the pandemic, and many are struggling financially. Ergo, if you can’t donate, we’d treasure you sharing some positive encouragement. 

Simply, this is two guys looking to challenge themselves and raise money for a good cause, in the name and spirit of a friend whom they lost and miss dearly. While the things we’ve learned in the military, and the love and support of those at HMCS Star have been critical in giving us the courage and strength to attempt this, Chris and I are organizing this in our private time and of our own volition.

I miss my friend Matt. July 10, 2020 was the anniversary of his passing. I’m tearing up writing this but while I can’t bring him back, I’m going to try and do this for him, and the passion and strength he showed.

Thank you for your support. 

Matt, buddy, this one’s for you.

-Zee Ivankovic

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