Two Canadian soldiers wounded in action in Afghanistan are marshalling supporters and equipment to compete in Canada's longest and toughest motorsport event - a campaign they hope will raise funds and awareness for a cause close to their hearts.
Master Cpl. Jody Mitic and Cpl. Andrew Knisley will team up to compete in September's Targa Newfoundland international rally under the banner of the Soldier On Fund, a trust fund of the Canadian Forces established to improve the quality of life of ill and injured soldiers through active participation and peer interaction in fitness and sports.
According to a news release, Mitic and Knisley both suffered devastating injuries in combat that have left the pair with just three arms and one leg between them.
In 2007, Mitic was on patrol in Kandahar Province when he stepped on a buried mine. Both of his legs were blown off below the knees. Less than two years later he competed in a half-marathon in Ottawa.
In 2009, Knisley passed a mud wall where two artillery rounds were buried. The rounds were detonated by remote control and the resulting explosion cost Knisley his right leg below the hip and partial use of his right hand. Less than a year later he entered a 5-km fundraising running event.
Both men are role models for seriously injured soldiers and actively involved in raising money for the Soldier On Fund. They have set their sights on Targa Newfoundland as a keystone project that will both showcase the recovery that's possible for wounded Canadian Forces personnel, and to gather contributions to fund the recovery of their returning comrades.
The release notes the soldiers' determination, discipline and stamina are tailor-made for Targa - a grueling six-day, 2,000-kilometre motorsport challenge that cris-crosses eastern and central Newfoundland from Sept. 11 to 18.
"We start every day with the belief there's nothing we can't do," says Mitic, who will share the driving chores with Knisley. "We want every soldier going through what we went through to have that same determination. We want to show them what's possible."
Targa organizer Robert Giannou said this may may be one of the most important teams to ever grace Targa Newfoundland.
"We have a deep affection for our men and women in uniform in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a very special place in our hearts for the soldiers who come back wounded, and the families whose soldiers have not come back at all," he said. "This province will open its heart to Jody and Andrew."
With the help of Maj.-Gen. (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie, one of Canada's best-known military figures, active race driver and a former Targa Newfoundland competitor, the team is putting together the car and equipment necessary to succeed.
An announcement is expected shortly on the team's choice of car.
"Targa's tough. We know that," says Knisley. "We don't expect to win in our first attempt - no one's ever done that - but we don't expect to lose, either!"
Both men have already graduated from the Motorsport Club of Ottawa racing school and will be tutored at a special Targa Newfoundland school run by former Targa winner Glen Clarke.
They are also planning a fundraising drive that will help them collect donations for Soldier On Fund. Donations to the Soldier On Fund can be made through the organization's website.
Owned and operated by Newfoundland International Motorsports Ltd., Targa Newfoundland is one of three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world. The ninth annual Targa Newfoundland will start in St. John's on Saturday, Sept. 11, and end back in the capital Saturday, Sept. 18. The competition will cover more than 2,000 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of Newfoundland, including up to 450 kilometres of closed-road, flat-out Targa stages.
Competitors have come from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Holland, Germany, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and the U.K. for the first editions of Targa Newfoundland and international interest continues to build with competitors registering daily.