Peterborough Chiropractor Wins Day One of Prestigious Petawawa Iron Warrior Competition

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Second Best Overall Time of Two-Day Event

Local health practitioner Dr. Sean Francis, a Master Corporal with the Canadian Forces Army Reserve’s Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, took first place in the first day of the grueling Petawawa Iron Warrior race hosted by the Second Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2CMBG) on Sept. 5 and 6. The annual endurance race is the ultimate test of physical and mental toughness that involves a 32-kilometre march, four-kilometre solo canoe portage, eight-kilometre paddle, and six-kilometre foot race to the finish line, all while carrying a 40-pound rucksack and wearing combat boots.

With a finish time of five hours, 39 minutes and six seconds, Dr. Francis was named Canadian Forces Iron Warrior for the first day of competition and beat out more than 500 other Canadian Armed Forces members who competed in both days of what is the 36th rendition of the race. The second day of competition, reserved specifically for active members of 2CMBG, was won by MCpl Shane Stewart, who was the only soldier able to best Dr. Francis’s time, coming in at five hours, 37 minutes and 53 seconds.

This marks Dr. Francis’s third running of the competition, and his winning time represents a one hour and two-minute improvement from his 2018 running, in which he placed ninth with a time of six hours and 41 minutes among the almost 200 competitors in that race. In 2017, Dr. Francis came in at 8th place out of about 200 competitors, running a time of six hours and 53 minutes.

“This race tells a lot about yourself, what you’re made of, what you bring to the table,” said Dr. Francis when asked how he felt about achieving such an incredible time. “And it definitely exercises your intestinal fortitude,” he added, when describing how he persevered to keep running despite utter exhaustion and extreme discomfort.

Dr. Francis was joined in the race by Peterborough registered massage therapist Dave Kervin, a Private with the “Hasty Ps,” as the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment is affectionately known. Kervin finished what is his first running of the race with a time of seven hours, 38 minutes and 39 seconds. “What an incredible experience with a great group of soldiers,” Said Kervin. “I’ll definitely be back next year, and I’m proud to be a Hasty P!”

In all, 13 members of the Hasty Ps participated, bringing honour to their Regiment and a sense of personal satisfaction to themselves. Hasty P Chief Warrant Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major Dean Stokes noted that even though everyone has their own personal reason for entering the Iron Warrior, his soldiers still “come together as a team to help each other put their best efforts forward.” Regardless of their finish time, all of them earn CWO Stokes’ “utmost respect.” He also noted that the Iron Warrior showcases the physical and mental strength of his Regiment on both the individual and team-work level. “You can’t do what we do in an operational theater, whether domestically or abroad, without being physically tough and mentally tough.”

Hasty P Moro Company Officer Commanding, Major Andrew Straatsma said that “fitness is obviously a big part of the military and it’s a big priority for The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. Soldiers love challenges, and this [competition] falls in line with what a lot of us like to do. They didn’t join up for an easy life—this is something that appeals to them.”

Moro Company Sergeant Major and Master Warrant Officer Nicholas Cook has long supported his unit’s participation in the Iron Warrior, but this year enhanced his support by joining his soldiers in the race for the first time. “The experience was great,” said MWO Cook, “but don’t get me wrong, it was grueling at times, and you really have to reach deep within to keep pushing forward – especially at a pace like MCpl Francis.”

The Regiment’s Commanding Officer, Major Roy Van den Berg said that taking part in the event is important to both each individual soldier and to the Regiment at large. “It generates resilience, which is intrinsic in everything we do,” he said. “It sets the standard for who we are and what we do. It is an incredible accomplishment,” he added.

While Dr. Francis’ goal for this year’s race had been to improve his time by 10 to 15 minutes, his pre-race preparation obviously upped his game beyond that. This consisted of more than 300 kilometres of training, pre-race and during-race nutritional intake “mapped out down to the exact amount of carbohydrates and calories believed needed, and an assortment of pre-race physical therapy. Leading up to the race, he relied on chiropractic treatments, massage therapy, fascial release therapy, float therapy, cold therapy, and meditation to prepare his mind and body for the physical and mental trial to come. Dr. Francis noted that this all helped him feel the most physically and mentally prepared for a competition ever.

In his own words, Dr. Francis described his running of the race as follows:

“I crossed the line at 4 a.m., and within one kilometer was at the front with a few other competitive runners that I remembered from years past.

“By the fourth kilometre I had started to pull away and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I remember committing myself to running whether I was travelling on flat ground or downhill, and to walking as quickly as I could up any hills I encountered.

“I felt I had incredible energy during the 32k kilometre portion, and where I had feelings of cramping in previous years around the 16- to 21-kilometre mark, this year I felt strong. I was in the flow, and just kept moving forward. Whenever I thought briefly about walking, I told myself ‘you can walk when you get your canoe.’ I finished that 32-kilometre portion in three hours and two minutes, a time over 40 minutes faster than I had in previous years. I remember telling myself last year, that if you can win the 32km, you can win the event, and i was now really starting to believe this.

“I then picked up my canoe and I was off. Its weight quickly reminded me of the distance I had just covered. By two kilometres on the portage I was looking for tents to rest my canoe up against, just for a quick rest. But I kept telling myself, ‘not this one, maybe the next.’ I made it to the three-kilometre mark, and took a short 20-second rest before stepping off. I'm not sure it even helped, as I rested again another few hundred meters up the path, this time for much longer. Several minutes went by, and I convinced myself to get going, as I knew I couldn’t jeopardize losing because of taking breaks. So, I started running with my canoe even as I just wanted the discomfort to stop.

“I hit the water after 53 minutes, still in first, and proceeded to prepare for my paddle. Just as I was pushing off, I heard the number two hit the beach. He was on my tail and I couldn't afford to slow down now. The fog was thick and I couldn't see more than 10 minutes ahead of me. The support boats were on the water, and the sound of the motor acted as a guide. I paddled continuously, with only minor drink breaks, and exited the water to a cheering crowd one hour and nine minutes later.

“In past races this is where my legs would seize, but not today. I tossed on my ruck and was off, through the stiffness and discomfort, knowing that #2 was only moments behind.

“Meanwhile, my family had arrived to the water exit point moments later as I had told them I would be much later than I ended up being. They asked if I had already finished the paddle portion and were told, ‘Oh yeah! He's in BEAST MODE!’ They quickly travelled back up the hill to the finish line.

“I didn't look back for the next few kilometres as I made my way through the golf course and up to the PMQ's. The ache really started to kick in in the final two kilometres and I started to feel myself slowing. I checked over my shoulder a few times looking for #2. I hadn't come this far only to lose in the final few kilometres. I turned the final corner, saw my wife Stacey, and ran to her.

‘“Is there anyone behind me?’ I asked.

‘“No one!’ she replied.

“I was passed the 33 Canadian Brigade Group flag and continued running alongside my wife. I was then passed my regiment's flag, and my speed picked up—BEAST MODE re-engaged! My kids joined me, and we crossed the line at 5h 39min, in FIRST PLACE! A full one hour and two minutes faster than my previous time.

“It's taken a few days to figure this all out and try to understand how I could have pulled this off. It was everything that went into it. The nutrition, the training and training partners (thanks Dave, Nicker, Chad, and Ahmed), the care of body from chiropractic and massage, the mental focus and meditation.

“But most importantly, it was my family. Knowing I was going to give my best and maybe even win the day for my kids and wife gave me the endless energy I needed. Last year they gave me a good luck clover key chain with Ironman 3X13 engraved on it (all 3 of my kids were born on the 13th). I wore it this year, attached to my pants belt loop.

“I earned the title of Canadian Forces Iron Warrior that day, and I'm sure it's something they and I won't soon forget."

Dr. Sean Francis is a chiropractor/health practitioner at the Towerhill Chiropractic in Peterborough, while Dave Kervin is a registered massage therapist at Trent Health in Motion.

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Dr. Sean Francis
Towerhill Chiropractic
+1 705-464-0529
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