Chris Zizek has been named a member of Team Canada for the upcoming Invictus Games in the Netherlands. Until then, you’ll find him training at the Strathcona Gardens Recreation Centre. At least, when he’s not at work as a mechanic. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Campbell River’s Chris Zizek named to Team Canada for Invictus Games

After numerous hip surgeries and a PTSD diagnosis, he now turns his attention to advocating for vets

Campbell River’s Chris Zizek spent almost 20 years serving our country in the Canadian Military.

He now turns his attention to serving ill and injured veterans – like himself – as an advocate, ally and athlete.

Zizek has been named to Team Canada for next year’s Invictus Games, taking place in The Hague, Netherlands, in rowing, seated volleyball and swimming. When named to the team earlier this year, he had no background or training in any of these sports, but he was more than willing to give them a shot.

His background is in mechanics. His 19.5 years in the forces were spent as a vehicle technician. He spent time working on military vehicles in every province of Canada other than Newfoundland, and did a tour in Afghanistan in 2005-2006.

“Unfortunately, my body was taking a beating,” he says. “I was getting sore hips over the years, and now I’ve had three hip surgeries since 2008, including a hip replacement. That’s what got me released from the forces. I didn’t meat the ‘universality of service,’ as it’s called.”

He was later also diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But while he was undertaking his release protocol in Comox, he took a volunteer position with BC Parks, and met Harry Reddin. Reddin is a retired military firefighter who had previously taken part in the Invictus Games and now served as a park ranger. He encouraged Zizek to apply.

But Zizek didn’t think he would bother. There’s no way they’d pick him, he thought, and if they did, he wasn’t really in any physical condition to compete.

“But (Reddin) said, ‘think of it this way, there are people who are missing limbs that are doing this, there are people on the team who are recovering from cancer.’”

So he sent in an application, and kind of forgot about it.

Me of all people…

“When that letter came in May, I had to have my wife read it, because I wasn’t sure if I read it right,” he says. “There were 500-plus applicants and 32 selected for the team, and I was one of them. I’m still flabbergasted.”

You see, Team Canada, Zizek says, is a little different than some of the teams that go to the Games, which he found out when he was accepted – but before he attended the first training camp in September, just outside Quebec City. There are no “tryouts” to make the team, and they don’t place people in events based on their skill in them.

“Their whole thing is to give everyone a chance,” he says. “You rank which events you’d like to do from 1-6 for the individual sports and 1-3 for the team sports and then they try to figure it out to give people the ones they want to do. I think the oldest guy on the team is 67, and we’ve got some 20-year-olds, and we run the whole spectrum of injuries and illnesses and backgrounds and a lot of us don’t have any idea what we’re doing when it comes to the sport we’re playing,” he adds with a laugh.

Like Zizek himself on the rowing machine, for example.

“I don’t have a good technique,” he says with another chuckle. “I’m like a blob on the seat and my legs kinda flail out and do a chicken-wing kind of thing. At the camp they told me I couldn’t row like that, and I said ‘I have to row like that. It’s the only way my hips go.’”

Bringing everyone along

But the first thing Zizek thought when he was accepted wasn’t “now I have to get in shape,” it was, “how am I going to afford for everyone to come?”

“I wanted the journey to be with my family. We didn’t know that two people were sponsored, at first, but when we found out, it relieved a lot of stress, but I have two boys, 10 and 14, and I knew they were both coming, we just had to figure out how.”

He wanted them to be there with him. He wasn’t going to go without his whole family.

“My kids are somewhat spoiled living here in Canada,” he continues, “so I thought maybe they’ll stop worrying about the little things in life if they actually see, in person, someone swim 200m with one arm. Maybe they’ll stop saying, ‘I can’t’.”

He didn’t really want to ask for financial help, he says, “but my family got on me and said, ‘let’s make this a thing, and we’ll make it a big deal,’ so I said, ‘okay,’ but I was really, really hesitant.”

So he started up a GoFundMe campaign to make enough to bring his third family member.

But the first day that the GoFundMe campaign was open, he made it to about third of his $3,000 goal. He’s now passed that goal, and doesn’t have to worry about being able to afford for his whole family to be with him for this important event, so he closed the fundraiser early.

“I really just can’t thank the community enough,” he says. “I know there are a lot of friends and family in that donor list, but there are a lot of anonymous people and people I don’t know who just threw money in, and all I can say is thank you. There’s something about this Island, and Campbell River, in particular, that everyone is just very, very generous around here.

And he’s hoping that he can do them proud. Not that he’s hoping to win his events, or anything, because that’s not what it’s about. For him, it’s about continuing his journey to good health.

“I just want to be not the last guy in the pool or the last guy on the rower,” he says. “I know that’s not the purpose of these games, but it’s still, for me, about boosting my confidence that I’m still capable of doing these types of things – hopefully with only minor pain,” he laughs again. “A lot of times when you have physical injuries, people get it in their head that they ‘can’t’ do things. The more I keep getting more active, the better it feels. Hopefully, after the games, I can keep this going.”

He also wants to take the honour of being named to the team and carry that forward, as well.

“Just because I got in this time, doesn’t mean I will in 2022,” he says.

“But if I don’t, I’m going to apply to be a coach so I can keep being a part of it. It’s important, and I can’t promote it enough, I don’t think. It’s so important and I’ve just been having a blast, so whatever I can do to support it, I’m in.

“It’s been a wicked ride. An absolutely wicked ride.”

The fifth Invictus Games will be held May 9-20, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands.

And Zizek will be ready.



miked@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Although the Campbell River Shoebox Project is not actually collecting shoeboxes this year, instead they are providing gift cards, coordinator Alison Skrepnick (pictured from last year) hopes Campbell River and North Island residents will still participate. this year’s Dec. 9 deadline is looking. Photo contributed
Time running out to help brighten the holiday for local vulnerable women

The Campbell River and North Island Shoebox Project deadline is Dec. 9

Franca Warkentin, President, and Annie Holmes, Trustee, of the Eagles Ladies Auxiliary present a cheque for $500 to Hamper Chairman Ken Niesen. Photo contributed
Final week to apply for Christmas Hampers is upon us

Applications are coming in slowly but the Dec. 5 deadline is Saturday.

Left to right: A screenshot of NTC nurse navigator Lesley Cerney, FNHA regional mental health manager Georjeana Paterson and Island Health’s medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns addressing Ehattesaht community members from Ehatis reserve in a Facebook live update. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Medical team sent to Ehatis reserve near Zeballos to guide community through COVID outbreak

17 cases, eight recoveries and no hospitalizations as Island Health praises First Nation’s response

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Campbell River businesses not immune to mask refusals and disturbances

Police have not handed out fines yet under the new provincial mandate

The Rotary Rock and Roll trail ready to ride. Photo supplied by Bryan Yells
PHOTOS: River City Cycle Club opens new mountain bike trail

Trail building seen as way of giving back to trail network

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Dave Wallace coached the Parksville Royals for 23 years. (PQB News file photo)
B.C. baseball community mourns death of legendary Vancouver Island coach Dave Wallace

‘All who knew Dave and his passion for the game will miss him greatly’

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Most Read