Inspired by International Women’s Day earlier this month, MARCOM HQ held a diversity and inclusion event, titled “The Power of Resilience – Overcoming Obstacles”. It featured two guest speakers with incredible stories of overcoming adversity.

During his opening remarks, MARCOM Deputy Commander Vice Admiral Didier Maleterre described “collective resilience” as part of the military DNA.

And resilience is certainly something keynote speaker Henry Fraser has in spades.

Henry was 17 years old and a promising rugby player, when a tragic accident crushed his spinal cord, rendering him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

His talk, aptly titled “Pushing Myself”, recounted his subsequent battle to “accept and adapt” to his new life. It’s a story of one man’s superhuman resilience, determination and strength of character as he pushes himself forward to meet the challenge of what’s in front of him.

Henry describes himself as an optimist. “Facing challenges in life is inevitable, but being defeated is optional,” he said. “Be grateful for the little things in life…it’s so easy to take each day for granted. Get the voice in your head to always talk about the things you can do, not the things you can’t do.”

Henry now has a successful career as a public speaker, artist and author. His book, “The Little Big Things”, was adapted into a musical in London’s West End, with rave reviews.

“It’s the striving that makes life meaningful,” he said, “the greater the challenge, the more alive you feel.”

The power of feeling gratitude was also significant to the second speaker of the day.

Lieutenant Commander Kim Poirrier of the Royal Canadian Navy was just eight years old in 1979, when she endured a treacherous journey to escape the horrors of communist Vietnam, eventually settling in Canada.

During her talk, “Finding Your Inner Harmony”, she described how she was bullied at school as she struggled to fit into her new home.

This armed her with a competitive spirit, a determination to overcome adversity, and drove her on to succeed.

Later, going against her parents’ cultural expectations that she would simply “marry well”, she fought hard for gender equality and joined the Canadian Armed Forces, enjoying a rewarding 30-year military career. Describing her struggle to overcome gender inequality throughout her career, she used perseverance to overcome the challenges she faced.

Lt Cdr Porrier suffered more tragedy when her husband of 28 years died suddenly of a catastrophic stroke.

“What gives me strength?”, she said. “My children, my love for my husband, and the fact I choose to live for both of us. I need to get up, even though all I want to do is lie down. The military is also a source of strength. It empowers me that I’m an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and I have a job to do.”

She accepts life is both “beautiful and hard”, with loss being an inevitable part. The power of perspective, and an “attitude of gratitude” have helped her survive her grief, and she describes each day as a gift.

Commander MARCOM Vice Admiral Mike Utley thanked the speakers for their time.

“Acceptance, adaptability, compassion, respect, patience – these are all words we pride ourselves on within the military,” he said. “And the ability to admit your own weaknesses, so you can accept the strength of other people. That sort of humility is something I think we all strive for.”

By Editor