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Soldiering on

A man smiles while sitting astride a white motorcycle. He is wearing jeans, a brown sweater and a vest. His leg is a prosthetic, and he is wearing a bright green sneaker. There is a large power line in the background.
Eric Payne, Radio Television Journalism Student and Canadian Armed Forces Veteran (Photo credit: © Berni Wood

Resilient is a word often used to describe Eric Payne, a second year Radio Television Journalism student. After a near-death experience claimed part of his leg and resulted in a medical-release from the Canadian Armed Forces’ Royal Canadian Navy, Eric turned to radio to broaden his reach and share his story with others.

“There’s power in hearing other peoples’ experiences,” says Eric. “I’ve survived childhood trauma. I recovered from alcohol dependency and I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to my 23 years of service.”

“I know firsthand that everyday conversations about heavy topics, such as disability and mental health, can make a real difference for others.”

Eric was pivotal to helping Soldier On grow and become the amazing program it is today. He continues to give back to the injured and ill by raising awareness and inspiring veterans to get active again. By following his dreams into broadcasting, he’s an inspiration to us all.

Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (Retired), Joe Kiraly
Soldier On

The road to recovery

In 2005, shortly after his traumatic injury, Eric became one of the first participants in Soldier On, a program which helps veterans and serving members adapt and overcome permanent physical and mental injuries through sport. For Eric, it changed his life.

“They taught me how to play hockey, ski, water ski, kayak, run, open water dive and get back on a motorcycle,” he says. “There was also a lot of media work involved. There always seemed to be a camera or microphone in front of me.”

Soon, Eric became an official advocate for Soldier On — taking on in media-heavy roles such as motivational speaker and captain of the organization’s Sledge Hockey Team. In time, he also became a Peer Supporter for the Amputee Coalition of Canada and a presenter for Parachute Canada’s Smart Risk, No Regrets Program.

The naturally-funny PEI native, also tried something he’d often been encouraged to do: stand up comedy. “I use humour no matter where I am. I find it signals to others — with injuries or illnesses — that if I’m okay to laugh about it, maybe they can too.” Since taking to the stage, Eric has performed at venues and events including Yuk Yuks, the MidLife Crisis Comedy Tour and the Quality of Life Tour across Canada.

Bringing it all together

In 2012, seven years after his release from the service, Eric started to struggle with PTSD and once again had to leave the workforce. “I was working as a safety and security analyst at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and I knew I needed a change of work environment.” With the support of his family and ongoing treatment for his illness, Eric found himself on a path to recovery once more.

He spent time thinking about his life before the navy and wondering what the future held. “I’d gone to CJRW, a radio station in Summerside, PEI, when I was 18 and read the news into a plastic mic with an old push button recorder. I didn’t receive a call back, but the experience always stuck with me.”

With a life-long passion for news and writing, and now countless presentations, media interviews and stand-up shows under his belt, Eric says he began to research how he could bring it all together.

“I needed something that would pull back the curtain on the world of media and help me see where I might fit in at this point of my journey. The Radio Television Journalism program was the answer.”

Back to class

At 52, with support from VAC, Eric moved from PEI to Nova Scotia to begin fulltime studies. “I was a little apprehensive,” says Eric whose wife, two kids and dog are still on PEI. “On the first day, one of my fellow students asked me if I was the instructor. I said ‘no, I just figured out what I wanted to do with my life.’”

With his diploma almost complete, Eric feels a sense of urgency to use his experience and training to make a positive impact on the rates of suicide for men living with mental illness — particularly for service members and veterans.

“The most important thing I’m gaining is an ability to create promotions and advertisements for the clients I support. I came here with verbosity, quick wit and critical thinking. With my background in event planning and food service I know I’ll be able to expand into so many streams now.”

Looking to the end of his program, Eric says he’s committed to becoming a mentor to other individuals with physical disabilities who have an interest in working in television or radio. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone, and I want to change that.”

Fast Fact

From December 2018 to November 2019, there have been 23,980 Canadian Armed Forces veterans with a PTSD diagnosis who received supports such as rehabilitation and psychological care. Like Eric, 34% of these veterans were between the ages of 40-59 and the vast majority were male (Source: VAC).