MCpl Natalie Pye-Keenan Competes in Iron Warrior
The annual Petawawa Iron Warrior Race is a grueling, military-themed, Triathlon-inspired race. Participants alternatively carry a heavy ruck, portage a canoe, race down the river, and then sprint to the finish. This year, Soldier On had its first official representation ever through MCpl Natalie Pye-Keenan, who competed in the 21 km race at the 2021 Iron Warrior.
Natalie has had difficulties in her career, and like many others, has had to confront the realities of a hostile culture in need of change. That said, she has spent 26 years with the Canada Armed Forces (CAF), never letting anything hold her back. Natalie has completed three Iron Warrior races, and regularly trains for endurance and marathon activities. Stretching to the breaking point, both mentally and physically, this training has been a large part of how she has coped, and overcome the strains of mental illness, and traumatic brain injury. Unfortunately, this will be her final year competing as a member of the CAF, as she is in the process of releasing for medical reasons.
“I never thought in a million years that I would be medically released," Natalie said. "I've spent my entire career and life eating right, making healthy life choices. It is a bitter pill to swallow knowing it is over.”
Natalie has been looking for new and adaptive activities to keep her mind and body strong. As a new member of Soldier On, she recently received an equipment grant for a kayak. When the competition date approached, the event organizers asked Soldier On to have an official representative at the race, and Natalie was quick to stand up and volunteer.
"It is a great honour to know that the Soldier On program has faith in me; the support that this amazing organization has given me is immeasurable. I hope I don't fail. Soldier On for me, it means opportunity and healing. The sky is the limit now that there are programs for serving and ex-serving members. We no longer have to live in the shadow of our injuries and impairments. Stigmas are not an option with all that work, represent and volunteer with Soldier On."
Knowing the course well, Natalie told us that she was most concerned about the portage. With neck and back injuries, she knew that it would give her a hard time carrying the heavy canoe and pack. However, come race day, she powered through this portion and was maintaining a strong position along with the other competitors. In the end, it was the canoe portion itself that was the most grueling for her. Hitting the water late in the afternoon, the river became very rough with high winds. Along with many competitors, Natalie was significantly delayed, finishing with a time of four hours and 12 minutes.
Joining her supportive family and well-wishers at the finish line where she was awarded the 2 CMBG Commander's coin for her achievement, Natalie had many to thank.
“Thank you to Tim Robinson with Soldier On and Dr. Ethan Davenport who allowed me this opportunity, as well as Howard Kack along with the 1RCR Iron Warrior team for allowing me to train with them. To my little group of friends and Puma bras, thanks for your support; and finally, to my family especially my kids who remind me every day that I can still be a super hero and encouraging me as such. This may be my last race with the CAF but it won't be my last with the human race.”
Natalie also has a challenge for Soldier On members. She wants to see a much larger Soldier On contingent at next year’s race! Who will be ready to take on her challenge?