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‘I was reborn’: Sault veteran discovers peace on the green

In a new documentary, Afghanistan war vet Luke Cyr explains how he survived post-traumatic stress and eventually found his purpose in an unexpected place: the golf course

From the battles on the grounds of Afghanistan to the ensuing battles in his own head, it’s not easy for Luke Cyr to share his experiences from his time as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

But he’s willing to open up if it means it could save a life.

The Sault-born war veteran was the focus of a recent documentary called "Par for the Course: A Soldier's Journey," which details his personal struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder before discovering his love for the golf course and eventually forming the Luke Cyr Foundation.

But the prospect of doing a documentary came down to chance when Chris West, a local bartender with a passion for filmmaking, first met Cyr while chatting with him at the casino this past winter.

“He told me that he was in the army for so many years, and I kept asking him questions because it interested me,” West recalled. “At the time, I was doing a bunch of short documentaries on local people, and I asked him if he would want to do an interview about his time in the army and the foundation that he runs now.”

One week later, the two sat down for a two-hour interview that Cyr described as “really difficult.”

“You go back to that dark place I was able to get away from,” he said. “But I did it because someone might see that documentary who’s going through the same thing I’m going through.”

When he joined the forces as an 18-year-old in 1998, Cyr initially served in a peacekeeping role in Bosnia.

But after the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, his role completely changed to combat, and he ended up serving three tours in Afghanistan before returning home to the Sault full-time in 2010.

Years of feeling lost, depressed and without purpose eventually reached a tipping point when Cyr attempted to take his own life on Oct. 30, 2021.

“I looked the devil in the eye, and thank God he blinked,” he said. “It’s not like I found a way to fight through it – I got lucky.”

As the documentary detailed, Cyr talked about other colleagues who weren’t so lucky, including his friend TJ Sterling from Afghanistan who ended up taking his own life.

Cyr’s emotional recounting of that time was what inspired the title of the feature.

“Luke says it was kind of ‘par for the course’ for them at the time,” West said. “It seemed like one after another after another. I thought that was a really striking thing to say: people killing themselves was just ‘normal’ and that it was so common.”

Following his darkest hour, Cyr spent some time at the Robbie Dean Centre in Renfrew, Ont., which provides counselling for people suffering from distress.

While he was receiving treatment, his friend Sean Sutherland made him aware of the Caddie School for Soldiers, a non-profit that helps veterans work through physical injuries and post-traumatic stress by bringing them to St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland for a month to train to become caddies.

In the early months of 2022, Cyr made the decision to join the program, inevitably altering the course of his future for the better.

“I was completely reborn when I came home, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I never thought I would have a purpose like this again. You’re learning to hang out with people again, you’re finding people with common problems, and you work through it together in that month-long course.”

Today, Cyr has settled down in Nova Scotia and is now an established caddie at Cabot Cape Breton, where he spends the warmer months assisting golfers from across the world with their game.

He was even featured in an article on TSN last November that helped him establish a name for himself out east.

“People are calling Cabot because they saw the interview Bob Weeks did with me,” Cyr said. “They’re saying: ‘I want the caddy that was on TSN,’ which is good for me because it will help me build my network and my reach.”

Soon after his unforgettable experience in Scotland, the full-time caddie launched the Luke Cyr Foundation, where he began to write poetry and share his work with the public.

As part of his work, Cyr hosts a gala every year to raise money for the foundation, which included the successful "Vision Poems: Ripple Effects Charity Gala" that was held at the Water Tower Inn last year.

Luke Cyr during his speech at the Water Tower Inn on Nov. 10, 2023. Image supplied.

One year since its inception, the foundation has already given $12,500 each to the Caddie School for Soldiers and the Robbie Dean Centre — the two places Cyr credits for getting his life back on track.

“My foundation is giving those who have retreated to the darkness a chance to embrace the light,” he said. “I want as many people as possible to have the chance I had. If I can show that I’m comfortable talking about it, maybe someone else will get comfortable talking about it too.”

Of all the human-interest stories and documentaries West has been a part of, none have been as challenging, or as rewarding, as this one.

“Luke is probably one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met,” he said. “The subject matter was a lot heavier and needed a lot more care. I think there’s a lot of documentaries that will try and sensationalize topics. I wanted to try and stay away from that as much as possible: to tell Luke’s story.”

“He's an insanely tough individual, but you can only do so much on your own,” West added. “It really takes a community of people to foster good mental health.”

Veterans near and far have been commenting on the video and sending messages to both Cyr and West since the piece was published earlier this month.

Over the last two weeks, Cyr mentioned he’s even had friends and loved ones who have been approaching him about the documentary, many of whom didn’t fully understand what he had been going through all these years.

“We have to start a conversation, and everybody has to learn and educate themselves on the tell-tale signs,” he said. “When you have damage to your brain, it’s an invisible wound – you don’t see it until it’s too late. You don’t ever want it to be too late.”

Last week, Cyr was invited to caddie the Veterans Alliance Golf Outing in Wisconsin, which brings together 144 players from Canada, the U.S., and the United Kingdom.

To help kick off the event, organizers asked Cyr to read one of his poems, which he describes as “the arch of my story.”

It reads as follows:

Sacrifice We Own

Decisions are made to fight for one’s land

Rise when we’re called as brothers we’ll band

No matter the flag on one’s shoulder stay

When called to our task we rose on that day

Innocence of youth we launched off to fight

Forsaking all beauty as day turns to night

Adrenaline and anger fuel weapons of war

Till guns fall silent and the battles no more

Return to the land, with the freedom provide

When lost in the masses alone on our side

Who could envision at home we would tread

Give into the darkness, and beg we were dead

We abandon all feelings in corners we’ll hide

Convinced that loved ones aren’t on our side

Shadows overwhelm, do away with our will

The loss of everything with no way to fill

Hope slowly fades as we lose all our worth

If only tomorrow was the day of our birth

Love of a friend with my own strength inside

Fighting the darkness and its horrible lie

Recovering from wounds absent from sight

Too walk with purpose our God given right

Head to Heavens, pride turns from its pause

Given back to this world, with a purpose and cause

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Alex Flood

About the Author: Alex Flood

Alex is a recent graduate from the College of Sports Media where he discovered his passion for reporting and broadcasting
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