Jackie Buttnor's Journey to the Invictus Games

UPDATE: Jackie Buttnor wins Silver medal at Invictus Games 2017

Jackie Buttnor of Canada celebrates her silver medal in Heavyweight Powerlifting during the Invictus Games 2017 at the Mattamy Athletics Centre on September 25, 2017 in Toronto, Canada.

During her career with the military Jackie Buttnor had many fun and rewarding experiences, but seeing a Hercules military transport plane crash right before her eyes in 1993 had a profound impact on her life. The crash resulted in five fatalities, and left Jackie struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that continued to escalate until she found help at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic (OSI Clinic) at Parkwood Institute, part of St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s). 

Under the watchful eye of her trainer, Jackie Buttnor practices her powerlifting skills in preparation for the Invictus Games.

Under the watchful eye of her trainer, Jackie Buttnor practices her powerlifting skills in preparation for the Invictus Games. 

It was an easy decision for Jackie, 50, to join the military. With her father in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Jackie’s interest in medicine it was the perfect fit. As a medical technician, she served seven years with the 1 Field Ambulance medical unit in Calgary, and seven years with the 19 Wing Comox medical air evacuation team. “For the most part it was a really good time and well worth it, but the Hercules crash changed the colour of my world,” says Jackie.

By 2004 Jackie’s PTSD symptoms became overwhelming, and she was medically discharged from the military. Moving to Ontario she retrained for a number of new careers including horticulture and occupational therapy/physiotherapy assistant. It was in 2006 when anxiety and depression caused things to start tumbling down around her that Jackie was referred to St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic.

“It was a godsend coming to the clinic,” says Jackie. “Whenever I was in crisis they were there for me. They treated me really well, and I’ve made leaps and bounds in my recovery.”

MySelf program 

In addition to the medical help Jackie has received from St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic, another key to her recovery was the MySelf program—a new program the clinic is piloting in partnership with St. Joseph’s Veterans Care Program. 

photo of the program group

MySelf participants with their dogs, spending time with their dogs during the MySelf program
myself program participants
Two men enjoy making pottery as part of the MySelf program.

“Trauma can result in people isolating themselves, and the MySelf program offers an excellent opportunity for people with an operational stress injury to challenge themselves to open up, socialize with others who have an operational stress injury, and explore new things,” explains Jane Gallimore, a registered nurse with St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic. Gallimore runs the MySelf program in collaboration with psychologist Dr. Jason Carr, therapeutic recreation specialist Marie Finkbeiner, veterans arts instructors Bev McNaughton and Kim Smith, music therapists Jill Kennedy Tufts and Emily DeBekker and dietitian Rose Russell.

The MySelf program offers a broad range of activities ranging from tai chi, to nature walks, to pool therapy to pottery. “The program helped me re-engage in life—to get out of the house, make new friends, and have new experiences,” says Jackie. “I really enjoyed the silk painting; when I’m painting I can focus right in and forget my other troubles.”  To further spread her wings, Jackie has even joined a local choir to nurture her love of music.

“During the course of the program we saw an incredible difference in the participants,” says therapeutic recreation specialist Marie Finkbeiner. “The first morning the tension in the room was evident, but by the last day they were all talking and laughing with their new-found friends.”

Invictus games

With more than 550 military athletes from 17 countries, this fall Jackie is competing in the Invictus Games—Prince Harry’s adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service men and women and veterans. She is training four to five times a week for the sports will be competing in which include wheelchair rugby and rowing, but her real strength lies in powerlifting where her maximum bench press is 190 pounds.

The therapists at St. Joseph’s OSI clinic have helped to restore Jackie’s confidence, peace of mind and joy in life. In fact Jackie, who says she has spent most of her life trying to stay out of the limelight, is now stretching her boundaries even further by being interviewed by national media outlets about her involvement in the Invictus Games.

“If anyone is having problems with PTSD, please say something to someone,” advises Jackie. “It’s a long and hard struggle but it’s worth it.”

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