OTTAWA — A Canadian soldier skiing to the South Pole with Prince Harry and 11 other wounded combat veterans says the decision to stop racing each other is making the expedition a success.

It’s the first word from Master Cpl. Chris Downey, an Ottawa resident and one of two Canadians on the Walking With the Wounded trek. The soldiers can’t be interviewed, but when they camp they send out some radio messages on their progress.

On the weekend, the three-way race was called off after the expedition doctor warned someone could be badly hurt from pushing too far each day. The British, U.S. and Canadian-Australian teams had been covering about 24 kilometres a day on vicious terrain.

Though no longer a formal race, the teams are carrying on and are now 63 kilometres from the South Pole, near the end of the 320-km journey, and averaging 16 to 17 kilometres a day.

“Everyone is now encouraging each other, which we were, but it is a lot more personal and closer now, spending time together and having lots of laughs really,” Downey said in his message.

“It is starting to be where we are supposed to be: that is, making sure that all 12 of us wounded get to the South Pole and show the world that with the right support, attitude, opportunity and the chance that we can accomplish anything. Whether you are sick or ill, a wounded veteran or just anyone who is having a bad day or week, you can do it

“You can just push yourself and put your mind to it and get to it. Now we get to share this all together and it is great. People aren’t afraid now to say when things are hurting or bothering them. There is no fear of letting the team down or slowing them down.

“It was the right call (to end the race). It was a good call and it has turned into even more of a trip of a lifetime. We are happy and only 63 km or so to go till we are at the Pole. The emotions are starting to run but I am excited to get there. “

Downey and Cpl. Alexandre Beaudin D’Anjou, the other Canadian on Team Soldier On, were both wounded by bombs in Afghanistan. D’Anjou suffered a broken back and other injuries while Downey lost an eye and suffered extensive burns.

Downey was severely injured in a May 3, 2010 explosion during a bomb disposal mission which killed his good friend, Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake. Downey was standing three metres away from Blake when the IED went off.

In 2009, Downey and Blake participated in Ottawa’s annual Canada Army Run together. After Blake’s death, Downey vowed to participate in the run every year in honour of his friend. Earlier this year, Downey participated in his fifth Army

Run while training for the Walking With the Wounded trek.

With files from Michael Woods

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Walking With Wounded

Team Soldier On (Canada & Australia)

Soldier On Canada