Surrey’s Aimee Brennan is giving back to War Amps programs that gave her confidence growing up.
Born a left-arm amputee, the lifelong Fleetwood resident is a junior counsellor with the organization, and also coaches young swimmers in Surrey.
Brennan, 20, was a competitive swimmer for nearly a decade, until an injury forced her to give up that international-level pursuit.
“It’s too bad, but my left arm is very interesting,” she explained. “My radius and my ulna don’t connect in my elbow, and so my bones are kind of free floating. I ended up injuring a nerve in my arm because of that. I’ve had chronic nerve pain, which is very, very unusual for an amputee born missing a limb. I’m just one of the lucky few,” Brennan added with a laugh.
This year the War Amps Key Tag Service celebrates 75 years of returning lost keys to their owners, and Brennan is among those who have benefited from the program.
The organization’s Child Amputee (CHAMP) initiative provides financial assistance for artificial limbs and adaptive devices, as well as peer support.
For Brennan, special devices have allowed her to ride a bike and also weighlift.
“One of the biggest things when you’re a CHAMP is, they really push you to try new prosthetics, to do new things,” Brennan noted.
“For swimming, weightlifting is important,” she added. “So I have an attachment that I can hook onto pretty much anything. I think the max weight it can carry is 350 pounds, so I definitely haven’t reached that, but I can lift anything with it, and pull anything with it. For different machines in the gym, I can attach it to those, and it allows me to work all the different muscles.
“There’s probably a technical name for (the attachment), but with War Amps, when I talk with other kids, I just call it my weightlifting arm.”
In Surrey, Brennan coaches with the Sea Lions summer swim team, and also the Surrey Knights club, with whom she trained.
“I love it,” she said. “I miss swimming, so I figure this is one way I can use all the experience I gained from all my years in swimming.”
A Kwantlen Park Secondary grad, Brennan is now studying at SFU with an eye on a career in law.
Growing up, War Amps helped her feel confident.
“You know, it’s easy when you look different from everyone else to be a little self-conscious,” she said. “But with the War Amps seminars we have, typically in March over spring break, you get to meet the other CHAMPS who are your age and some of the junior counsellors, who are the older mentors. I think one of the most impactful things for me was just seeing that these other people felt the same things I felt, and dealt with some of the same problems I had, and I can listen to them and talk to them. That’s been very important, and now I get to be in that role of junior counsellor, to talk to the younger kids and help them as well.”
During the pandemic, Brennan has kept connected with fellow CHAMPS in a “giant” online group chat.
“We check in with each other pretty much every day, just chatting,” she explained. “One of my friends had an issue with all the paperwork involved in getting a driver’s license, so I helped with that, but other times we just talk about our favourite TV shows, you know.”
When she drives, Brennan doesn’t have an adaptive device for her left arm.
“I chose that I didn’t want to, because one of the rules in B.C. is that you have to pick – are you going to drive with a prosthetic or not?” she explained. “So if I picked that I wanted to drive with a prosthetic, I would always have to be wearing my prosthetic. And I don’t wear my arm throughout the day, I use it only when I feel that I need two hands. I’m used to having one and a half, and I like to be able to feel the wheel and know where things are – that’s what I’m most confident with. But for things like weightlifting, that’s where I feel that I need that balance and use my prosthetic.”
The War Amps Key Tag Service was launched in 1946 so that returning war amputee veterans could not only work for competitive wages, but also provide a service to Canadians that would generate funds for the association’s programs, including CHAMP. The service has returned more than 1.5 million sets of lost keys to their owners.
Each key tag has a coded number. If you lose your keys, the finder can call the toll-free number on the back of the tag or place them in any mailbox in Canada, and The War Amps will return them to you by courier, free of charge.
The War Amps receives no government grants and its programs are possible through public support of the Key Tag and Address Label Service. For details, visit waramps.ca or call toll-free, 1-800-250-3030.
“We’d like to thank the public for helping to make this service a success,” said spokesperson Rob Larman, a graduate of the CHAMP program. “Your support funds essential programs for all amputees across Canada, including children and veterans.”