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Sergeant (Ret’d) Chris Zizek

Sergeant (Ret’d) Chris Zizek was raised in Goderich, Ontario and went on to serve for nearly 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. Serving as a vehicle technician, he was posted across Canada and deployed to Afghanistan as part of Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan. During his career he was also an instructor at the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School, a time Zizek calls one of the most memorable highlights from his career. A social butterfly at heart, Zizek enjoys connecting with his fellow Veterans and their families – he’ll have the opportunity to do so during the 2021 Invictus Games in The Hague.

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Chris Zizek

After leaving the military Zizek moved to Campbell River, BC and volunteered with BC Parks. He met Harry who was former military and also an Invictus Games athlete and he encouraged Zizek to apply to the Soldier On program, for a chance to compete at the Invictus Games. He eventually did, submitting an application in fall 2018, during his last couple of months in the CAF. Zizek’s application was accepted and he was selected to compete with Team Canada at The Hague in May 2020 in rowing, sitting volleyball and swimming.

“It was quite surreal and it took me a couple of weeks to really process it,” he said. “This is unbelievable, when you read that almost 500 people applied and they only pick 31 of them … it’s quite a feeling to say the least.”

“…You want to show a person that we’re all together and let’s do this together.”

He met his teammates at Team Canada’s the first training camp. Zizek immediately felt at home. “For myself I am a social bug, so I like to talk to everybody,” Zizek states while chuckling. “But, there were some people there who just weren’t ready for that, it was hard for me to see or understand to try not to push, to try not to pry, but you want to show a person that we’re all together and let’s do this together.”

Zizek says that the training camp felt like all of the military training courses he had to attend during his career, where you go in not expecting to know anyone. To him, the time spent with Team Canada at an Invictus Games training camp at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, alongside teams from other countries, was an opportunity to open up and discuss with other competitors the challenges they face, and share their inspiring stories.

“We were working out with Team France, Team USA or Team Georgia, we were working out with everybody during these training sessions. You got to learn a bit about everybody and their stories,” Zizek says. He takes inspiration from his fellow competitors on how they have been able to adjust their daily routines post-service. “It’s mind blowing what they’ve done with their injuries and how they’ve turned it around. I’m going to implement a lot of those changes at home.”

He remembers meeting a young marine who had lost her leg below the knee who planned to compete in snowboarding at the next Paralympics, as well an individual who had lost both of his legs and was set to compete in swimming at the next Invictus Games.

“It’s the positivity that members like this portray that I want to implement at home,” Zizek says “Many people focus too much on the negativity, and can’t see that even a small gain in life is still a positive way forward.”

Zizek relishes how competition has made such a positive impact on him, as well as his children. Since the games have been postponed, he has purchased a rowing machine for his house, to continue to train virtually with his teammates. Zizek did not let distance or the pandemic slow down his training and earlier this year, he rowed over 20 kilometers in a friendly competition against a teammate. While at home, Zizek has also been keeping up with his flexibility and strength training He’s adapted and remains driven to reach new heights he never thought he could.

“It was cool to say as teammates that we just accomplished something that we could’ve never accomplished a year [ago], let alone 20 years ago,” he says.

“My kids are who I want to inspire the most at the end of this.”

Zizek explains that he has started to learn to deal with his mental health struggles and it definitely is impacting his life positively. “My kids are who I want to inspire the most at the end of this,” he says. “Trying to explain to them that I am okay.”

He’s also created some healthy competition within his household, using the rowing machine as motivation for himself, his kids, and his wife. “It has been very helpful, because not only have I got on the rowing machine regularly, my kids now want to get on it and my wife gets on it. So now we have these little competitions between us,” he explains.

“[They] are much happier and they want to keep challenging me, so now it’s a competition and it’s fun.”

As we highlight Canadian Veterans and Armed Forces members who will represent Canada at the Invictus Games in 2021, Sergeant (Ret’d) Chris Zizek is this week’s Face of Freedom.

Listen to Chris Zizek on our Faces of Freedom Podcast.

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