The Transformative Power of Mentoring and Sport

Gregory Lagace

When alumnus Gregory Lagacé met the Minister of National Defence, Gordon O’ Connor, he only said three words, “Good Morning Sir.” In 2006, Lagacé was beginning Soldier On, a program designed to help soldiers in their recovery through sport. O’Connor was so enthusiastic about the conception of this program, he spoke for a full hour. The National Defence had been looking for a way to help care for the injured. 

“We were that last piece of the puzzle,” says Lagacé. The program helps both veterans and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces with physical or mental illnesses. It provides sporting activities and access to special equipment, training, camps, and events. Some members have been known to participate in the Paralympic or Invictus Games. 

“The Government of Canada now recognizes Soldier On as an integral program,” says Lagacé. “To introduce these members to sport, to become something much bigger than sport, and to become an essential part of their recovery.”

Due to its large naval base, there’s a possible future for Soldier On in Victoria. “We have put forward a submission to National Defence to go from a centralized to decentralized program to meet that demand that we’re seeing,” says Lagacé. They plan to take Soldier On from a national level to a local one. “Ongoing connection among peers is paramount to our success and the individuals’ recovery.” 

Lagacé’s motivation for developing Soldier On came from his own family. His wife, Caroline Gauvin, is a retired Sergeant and his father served as a military officer for thirty-five years. He was also inspired by Paralympics founder, Sir Ludwig Guttman. After World War two, Guttman believed sport to be an integral part of the healing process for the injured soldiers. “I picked up the torch. I’m carrying forward what this doctor created for these World War two vets to help them in their recovery,” says Lagacé.

Lagacé had always believed in the transformative power of sport. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Leisure and Sports Administration at UVic and began his career with the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC). CPC combined two of my passions, one with love of the military and helping the veterans who have a disability.” says Lagacé.

“I owe a great deal of my personal and professional success to UVIC and in particular three professors who inspired me - Dr. Wharf-Higgins, Dr. Lauzon and Mr. Nichols. It was very important in helping me get to where I am. I don’t know if I would have done the things that I have accomplished. What inspired me the most to really succeed was the mentors. I cannot overstate the profound impact they had on me both in terms of personal development, but in the professional side through the way the teachers taught, the classroom settings, the teaching methods, and the honesty and respect they showed me.”

He was hired as a sports coordinator for the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. He worked with Team Canada for three years and then moved on to become the Paralympic Development Manager before he founded Soldier On.

On September 29, 2015, Lagacé was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in the civil division for his work with Soldier On. The award honours citizens who have excelled professionally in helping Canadian citizens. Lagacé told his peers that they shared the award and in extension, with UVic.

For more information about Soldier On:

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