COCHRANE — A new wellness retreat that aims to help first responders and others dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) held its grand opening on Saturday.
The Wayfinders Wellness Retreat team held a COVID-19-conscious opening ceremony outside rustic-chic ranch buildings that have been repurposed for the program. Members of the military, first responders, First Nations representation and area politicians were present, in addition to Calgary Flames centre Dillon Dubé and former Calgary Stampeders star Jon Cornish.
The most impactful part of the retreat isn’t the innovative range of trauma therapies, outdoor activities or postcard-worthy rural scenery, said spokesperson Bryce Talsma. It’s the opportunity to be with others coping with similar mental health struggles, to know they’re not alone in an ongoing experience that’s nearly impossible to explain to others.
“The biggest thing is to tell everyone, ‘You’re not alone. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be better. Tomorrow will be better. Just be brave, one more day,’” he said at the retreat’s grand opening.
“The other spokes on the wheel are a ‘hook’ to get someone to get out of their basements, to get out of their situation, and physically go, ‘Well, what’s this about? I always wanted to try fly fishing, I’ll come out for that.’ Or, ‘Oh, horses, I never thought I could. That’s always been out of range.’”
Talsma, an Afghanistan veteran with the Canadian Armed Forces who is open about his own experiences with trauma, said there is a nationwide void in how operational stress injuries like PTSD are addressed among military members and first responders. He and his partners, led by Calgary police detective Paul Wagman, are looking for the Wayfinders Wellness Retreat to fill some of that void.
“Can we tear down our walls of professional pride and come together to help each other navigate a path to health, resiliency and thriving lives?’ he asked.
“Thinking of the wheel, the ‘hub’ is the peer support. It’s the authentic support you get from people who’ve been there before.”
At the retreat, scheduled to be fully up and running next spring, guests experiencing stress injuries like PTSD will be treated through a diverse selection of programming: First Nations techniques, equine therapy, nature-based programming and traditional one-on-one therapy are just some of what’s being offered either by the Wayfinders team or through their partners.
Christina Smith, a pioneer in women’s international bobsledding, was also present. The Olympian took to the podium to raise awareness and share her own experiences overcoming trauma.
“I went from not knowing what I didn’t know, to knowing what I didn’t know, to being educated and made aware of my circumstances and what were my options to heal and move forward,” she said of her brain injury diagnosis.
“I went from hopeless to hopeful. I was empowered the more I researched and understood about my situation and what treatments, support groups and tools were at my disposal.”
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Saturday’s guests weren’t able to have a look inside the buildings accommodating the program. However, fresh coats of paint and new roofs served as a backdrop for the opening event’s speeches, burgers and country music.
The facility sits on the part of the historic WineGlass Ranch that’s designated as conservation land, and there’s plenty of calm to be found in the landscape surrounding the ranch and treatment centre.
Limited programming is running, with the full slate set to start in the spring. Further information, volunteer opportunities and a link to donate can be accessed at WayfindersWellness.ca.