An Algonquin alumna has won two bronze medals at the 2018 Invictus Games, an international event created by the United Kingdom’s Prince Henry in support of wounded veterans.
Naomi Fong, 32, won two medals in cycling during the week-long games in Sydney, Australia. She was also the flag-bearer for Team Canada during the opening ceremonies of the event on Oct. 20.
But despite the accolades, her motivation for the games was always a blend of personal empowerment and patriotic pride.
“Winning the medals was nice,” Fong said in a phone interview with the Times. “But my ultimate goal was to do my best and represent Canada as best I could.”
Fong served for nine years with the 42nd Field Artillery Regiment in Pembroke, a reservist regiment of the Canadian Army. After leaving the military, Fong enrolled in and graduated from the Pembroke campus’ social service worker program.
It was a field of study that she excelled at because it allowed her to provide support for the people around her.
“My time at Algonquin was an eye-opening experience, even though I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Fong laughed. “I want the skills to be able to help other people, and help myself.”
It is the desire to empower both herself and others that led her to the Invictus Games, which was designed for wounded, injured and sick veterans and active duty military personnel. While Fong suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she refuses to let the pain of her past affect her future.
“I try and speak openly about my past trauma,” said Fong. “I experienced a lot of harassment and sexual assault while I was in the military. For a long time, I lost myself.”
Having always been an athlete, Fong has used sports as a tool for self-empowerment and recovery from what she had faced. And with the success she found in Sydney, Fong hopes to use her new platform to help empower others who have faced similar traumas.
“I just want people to know that it’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to look for help,” said Fong. “And I think it’s especially helpful for the Algonquin population to hear this from a grad. If my story helps other people recover, then that’s all I could want.”
It was the encouragement from Fong’s friends that led to her trying out for Invictus. According to Fong, it was the support system that her loved ones gave her that helped her live with her past.
“I had a friend on last year’s team who told me to try. I really needed because I needed to feel supported,” said Fong. “It enabled me to feel more comfortable with the trauma I faced.”
Support and friendship was another facet of Fong’s motivation at the games. As every competitor had suffered from some form of trauma, be it physical or psychological, the community was driven by a sense of mutual healing.
“It was very important to me that I made new friends and connections (at Invictus),” said Fong. “It’s so helpful to be a part of a community.”
And now, with a couple of medals around her neck and the experience of a lifetime under her belt, Fong will return to Pembroke just a little bit stronger as she continues her road to recovery.