Eric Payne has opted to look on the bright side.
When the motorcycle he was driving was hit head-on by a truck travelling in the wrong lane in 2005, it was his mother, Betty Payne, who put things in perspective when she visited him in the hospital several days later.
“She said, ‘You are not a paraplegic. You don’t have a head injury. Your leg is a little chewed up, but they’re going to fix it up ....You need to know that you’re OK,’” says the Tryon native of that visit that’s still fresh in mind.
Lying in his hospital bed, her pep talk made a huge impression on the way he saw himself.
So did the countless visits he received from family and friends who dropped by to encourage him.
“That’s what people gave me — the feeling that I was still me,” says Payne, a Canadian Forces member who had returned home from Afghanistan two years earlier.
“I had spent my life doing dangerous things...,but it wasn’t until I came home that I got in trouble,” says Payne, with a laugh.
Even when infection set in and he had to have his left leg amputated just below the knee, he continued to find the silver lining.
“Every morning I had to open my eyes and ask myself, ‘what are the options for today?’ I had responsibilities to other people in my life. They were trying and so I had to, too. I couldn’t check out,” he says.
His optimism continued through the rehabilitation process as he was fitted with a new prosthesis.
“I received an incredible amount of support. But people wouldn’t let me off easy. They would not placate me. So it became a process of learning how to fall down and learning to get up again,” says Payne who also started performing at comedy circles.
Now he uses his experiences to help others make positive transitions in their lives. Since 2007 he has been involved in the Soldier On program as a volunteer. It provides opportunities for wounded, injured servicemen to regain active lifestyles.
“It’s about making people feel comfortable, laughing at frailties and moving forward to set goals. It’s about being able to say, ‘I know,’ “ says Payne, who was recently presented with a Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal for his involvement in the program.
At the Soldier On headquarters in Ottawa, Soldier On manager Greg Lagace says he was happy to nominate him.
“Eric is an inspiration to everyone who has the pleasure of meeting him, reminding us that the only limitations are the limitations we impose upon ourselves,” he said during a telephone interview.
Payne says his work is far from over. He’s making plans to head out on a comedy tour this spring to raise funds for the program.
“The key is being able to laugh at myself .... It’s about learning coping mechanisms and thought processes to use to create support networks,” he says.
AT A GLANCE
Up close and personal with Eric Payne
Favourite book: Blood Brothers.
Inspiration: Andrew McLean, the creator of the Soldier On Program. McLean came up with the idea after he met a fellow soldier who had sustained a spinal cord injury and was experiencing difficulty in returning to an active lifestyle. After raising funds for him back in 2005, McLean thought he could help other Canadian Forces members in the same situation. So he contacted Greg Lagace of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and the program was born.
Day job: After being medically released from the military as a master seaman after the accident, Payne works for the Canadian Public Service in Charlottetown.
Cheering squad: Seanna, his wife, and Paul Franklin.
Five things to take on a speaking engagement: Hands-free head mike, speech, Seanna, lab puppy and his sense of humour.