News Local

Invictus tour rolls through Port Hope on way to games

By PETE FISHER, Northumberland Today

PORT HOPE - It was the sound of rolling thunder at Legion Branch 30 as riders rode in on their motorcycles through town for the Invictus Games 2016 Flag Relay on Monday.

The flag itself will fly over city hall in Toronto on Friday in a ceremony, but it's been making the rounds across Canada, traveling over 12,000 kilometres and visiting 22 military bases including CFB Trenton prior to the Port Hope stop.

The Invictus Games will take place from Sept. 23-30 with 550 competitors taking part from 17 nations involved in 12 sports.

The first games took place in 2014. Prince Harry created the games as a chance for injured military members to compete in various sports.

The flag was accompanied by members of the Heroes Highway Ride, along with members of the CAV (Canadian Army Veterans Motorcycle Group) and other motorcycle groups inspired by the Canadian Forces.

More than 60 motorcycles roared into the Legion parking lot and were met by the Legion Colour Guard along with numerous local dignitaries including Mayor Bob Sanderson and members of council.

One by one the flag bearers were introduced and stepped up holding the flag and waving it proudly in front of approximately 100 people.

Special guests for the event was 2016/17 Royal Canadian Legion Silver Cross mother Colleen Fitzpatrick from Prince George, British Columbia and retired Master Cpl. Denise Hepburn from CFB Trenton who was critically injured in a training accident. Hepburn will be competing in indoor rowing, swimming and sitting volleyball.

Fraser Hadwin, senior manager, special projects for Invictus Games said local resident Brian Stacey from the Heroes Highway Ride was adamant the flag would come to Port Hope.

"Basically he told me I wasn't going past Port Hope without stopping," joked Hadwin.

"When it came time to do this leg, it was just fitting," given it's the route along the Highway of Heroes and where the Heroes Highway Ride has completed their ride.

Fitzpatrick's son, Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick was critically injured on March 6, 2010 when he stepped on a improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

It was Fitzpatrick's last official ceremony as the National Silver Cross mother and her emotional speech brought seasoned veterans listening to tears.

Saying that her son was a infantryman with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, in Edmonton, he was on his first tour in Afghanistan while on foot patrol was fatally injured.

"Through the amazing medical treatment and blood transfusions he actually survived. He was transferred to Germany."

Fitzpatrick and her husband said they were fortunate enough to spend two weeks with him in the hospital in Germany.

"He was awake, we were able to speak with him. We were able to tell him we loved him," she said through tears.

"His only request, was to come home."

A day after their son was brought home to Edmonton, he passed away.

"He knew he was home."

Fitzpatrick said being the National Silver Cross Mother has been an emotional, amazing journey.

"To stand before the National War Memorial to represent the families of the fallen, as you can imagine was extremely emotional."

"I stood and reflected on the thousands of men and women who've given their lives for our rights and freedoms."

During her time as the National Silver Cross mother she has met many families of the fallen and other Silver Cross mothers including Anne Loveman and Barb Johnson who were at the ceremony in Port Hope.

"We are a group who share a common bond that few would understand."

Along the way, she's met many veterans including some who knew her son including the Chief of Defence Staff who played rugby with her son, and the Padre who served with her son and helped him on the field when he was injured.

"It was truly devastating to lose our son, but what a positive experience this last year has been."

Her final words resonated throughout the backyard of the Legion where the ceremony was took place.

"Many ask me if our son died in vain - and my response is, I guess it depends - do you value your freedom?"

Hadwin said the words Fitzpatrick said during the ceremony were very heartfelt and beyond what he expected.

"The sacrifice of the men and women who serve is something we all get, but I think what often gets missed is the sacrifice of the families. Not only the immediate families, but the families who surround them when they are coming back."

The flag was later taken to Bowmanville before carrying on to Toronto.