Invictus profile: Derek Speirs

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Navy News / October 18, 2018

Even though he never formally learned how to swim, Derek Speirs always wanted to be a submariner. He never imagined he would be representing his country at the Invictus Games.

In 2006 he broke his back from a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) induced seizure.

“I started having PTSD issues but I also started zoning out. I thought it was PTSD related but came to find out, two years later in 2006 I had been suffering from seizures. A month after discovering that, I had a major seizure and I broke my back.”

But Speirs was eager to get back doing what he loved.

“After the seizures all I wanted to do was go back to sea,” he said.

When asked why he joined the Royal Canadian Navy, Speirs had this to say.

“I was 5 or 6 when I first saw Star Wars. I had all the toys, and all the space ships.”

“Then, when I was around 7 or 8 I was in Montreal with my dad. One of the old submarines was tied up in the port and I completely freaked out. I just went ‘Wow! That’s a spaceship under water. That is what I want to do.’ Everything I did in the military was toward that goal.”

After joining in 1989 Speirs finally completed his submariners training in 2002.

Speirs has since retired from the Canadian Armed Forces due to his PTSD and back problems. As he transitioned to his new life post injury he gained insight into how his negative thoughts affected him.

“For those who are medically discharged, we don’t remember. Well, I didn’t remember all the good I did. I just remembered all the crap that happened. I was feeling down one time because my back was killing me.”

“I said something on Facebook and a friend from Halifax reached out and said ‘Derek, do you know that you have impacted a lot of people just by your lifestyle changes? You were always nice to me, you were always good to me and I used to look up to you.’ I was completely blown away because I didn’t remember any of it.”

The same friend sent Speirs the application for the Invictus Games roughly a month later.

“I started laughing because I’m thinking ‘I don’t do any sports, I can hardly walk, and I'm a complete mess,’” he remembered.

To his surprise, he was accepted as a competitor. He didn’t think he would be able to compete. But he proved a lot to himself during his first major training camp for the games earlier this year in Halifax.

“That first morning when we started the training we started in the pool and I remember the coach said ‘Do 50 meters as fast as you can.’”

“I did that 50 meters and I thought I was going to die.”

“I had been swallowing water and I was exhausted and I thought ‘Oh no! What did I get myself into?’”

Speirs said as the week went on he listened and applied instruction from his coach and started seeing results. At the end of the week everyone, including the coach, competed in a 25 meter race that he won.

“So starting from thinking I was going to drown to actually winning a race was fantastic, I loved it.”

After competing in Australia this fall, Speirs will need major back surgery, a multi-level spinal fusion, which is supposed to keep him in rehab for up to six months. He is optimistic about his recovery.

“The surgeon told me that I am kind of lucky because I am in shape now, it takes six months for someone who is not in shape. Now I am in shape so it might take me three months, it might take me two months.

I have exercises I’ll need to do at home but I have lots of friends, my girlfriend is a nurse so she is going to take care of me. I’ve got the jackpot really.”

For now, Speirs is a hundred percent focused on the job he needs to do in Australia and what it means to be representing his country at Invictus.

“To wear Canada on my back coming from where I have come from to where I am now, proud to represent my country, my family, my friends, and my fellow veterans it is an amazing feeling.”

“I cannot wait to go to Australia. It’s going to be incredible.”