Rossland resident completes bicycle trek in Europe in support of veterans

Lyle Crispin, 48, is back home from Europe after biking from Paris to the D-Day invasion beaches.

A Rossland resident may not sleep the same after a trip of a lifetime also stirred up memories of a traumatic time in his life.

But suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can have that effect on a veteran, even one that’s highly aware of what tools he needs to get through the day.

Lyle Crispin, 48, is back home from Europe after biking from Paris to the D-Day invasion beaches, where a group of battlefield tour guides talked about the historical events that took place at the very sites.

“They actually gave us the opportunity to go into Juno Beach, which was the beach that Canada invaded, and it was horrible,” he said. “I did not do well there.”

The retired sergeant was one of five Canadians invited to represent Soldier On, a Canadian Armed Forces program supporting military members to overcome their mental or physical illness or injury through sport and other activities.

“Mental health, post-traumatic stress and physical impairment change the way that you have to get involved with exercise and (Soldier On) helps with that,” he explained. “They try to help with the very basic at the very onset (like a bike or a set of golf clubs). I had already chosen to be more fit, but they provided me some support.”

The majority of riders participating in the Big Battlefield Bike Ride were raising funds for Help for Heroes, the British charity that puts on the annual event. But the Canadian team – Crispin included – was sponsored by Solider On.

The journey last month was shared with about 300 riders who traveled from Paris to Sherborne through rolling hill terrain. The Canadians traveled 80-120 kilometres a day over the course of five days, ending with a ferry ride to England.

“It was slightly more difficult than I had anticipated,” he admitted.  “To do the battle tour was difficult. I woke up most nights in a pool of sweat.”

Physically the trip was not overly challenging for Crispin, a wounded soldier-turned-triathlete who trains daily as a means of living with the disorder.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Crispin’s case isn’t so cut and dry. He had multiple traumatic incidents, one; he said, would’ve been enough.

He joined the military in 1984 and was posted to Chilliwack’s 1 Combat Engineer Regiment a couple years later. By 1988, Crispin went to Cyprus to work construction on the Green Line, and a few years later he was tasked with demining the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq and reestablishing the border. He was off to Yugoslavia come 1992 for the civil war “and that was not pleasant.”

Nowadays, he lives the good life with his wife Julie in Rossland. The couple has a real appetite for life. Whether you’re laughing at him climb the Rossland hill on his bike or picking the ice off his grizzly beard in the winter, you would never know Crispin is still battling PTSD.

“What do I deal with? Heightened awareness . . .  adrenaline cortisol are always going through my body—there’s constant pain,” he said. “My lungs don’t work when I get stressed out and when I don’t want to do something, my brain takes over and makes it impossible for me to do it.”

There is a lot of work that goes into remaining calm. Crispin uses tools like self-hypnosis, breathing exercises, tapping and, or course, fitness and diet to find balance.

And although he may seem to be clocking in on Kootenay time, the need to find relaxation and a daily release is a must.

“I suppose from the outside, it must appear that I’m just this guy who does these things and looks super lazy,” he said. “But if I don’t have that period of about two to five hours a day, where I work out, I break down.”

Crispin started to gain weight when he left the military. He didn’t want to socialize; He didn’t want to leave his basement.

Over five years ago, he found the courage to change. Finding downhill skiing, he said, saved his life.

“Being 300 pounds on a pair of skis is a challenge and having that desire to be good at that again was really something that I wanted.”

It didn’t take long to break in a pair of runners from Gerick’s and then another and another.

Today he is a different person.

Crispin works as a peer volunteer with Operation Stress Injury Social Support (OSSIS), a partnership program between the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. It is difficult to take on this role but he finds satisfaction in working with veterans and considers it part of his healing. Crispin was recently recognized for his work with OSSIS with a certificate from the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs.

“I see and talk to people all the time who are in a position where hopefully they start physical fitness as a new path because it helps, as far as I’m concerned, with overcoming mental illness,” he said.

He is off again this weekend in search for a moment of bliss as he competes in a half-Ironman marathon this Sunday in Calgary.