Injured Afghanistan vet a powerful source of inspiration to Canadian rugby team

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TORONTO — He is the 32nd member of Canada’s Rugby World Cup roster. And he goes everywhere with the team.

In an era where sports mascots can be superfluous or downright annoying, the plush moose dressed as a Mountie has an important tale to tell for the Canadian men.

The moose has been with the team since 2007, carried out of the dressing room and left on the side of the pitch during games.

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But it transitioned from mascot to inspiration after a 2011 talk to the team in Victoria by Capt. Trevor Greene, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who nearly died in Afghanistan.

Today the team mascot is called Captain Greene in his honour.

“He’s a very powerful man to this team, and especially to me,” said Canadian winger DTV van der Merwe. “I get super-emotional thinking about him.

“I play with him every time I play the game. I write (his name) on my wrist, even for my local clubs. I just think he’s a huge inspiration. Everyone in Canada, especially in Rugby Canada, can take a leaf out of his book — just to never give up and just to keep believing in what you want from life.”

A journalist and author, Greene went to Afghanistan as an army reservist.

In 2006, he was attacked by a 16-year-old boy wielding an axe as he and other Canadian soldiers talked to village elders. His brain was nearly split in half, leaving him in a coma. Doctors said Greene might never survive but he defied the odds.

“From that day on I guess his whole life changed,” said van der Merwe. “He fought every day for months and months, years even.”

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They said he would never walk again. He stood up at his wedding, for the first time.

Today he can take steps, with a special robotic exoskeleton and financial support from the Royal Canadian Legion.

Greene, a former rugby enthusiast who received the Sacrifice Medal, was a torch-bearer for the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. He makes his home with his family in Nanaimo, B.C.

The national rugby team used to entrust Captain Greene to rookies or the youngest guy on the team. But recently they changed that, deciding it was an honour to carry the mascot around.

The man of the match or a player who has done something special in the community will be entrusted with him.

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“He goes everywhere. Lunch, breakfast, dinners, everywhere,” said van der Merwe. “And when we go out on the field, he’ll sit on the sideline and watch.”

Added 24-year-old forward Evan Olmstead: “It’s an important job when you get him. He has to come around with you to pretty much everything we do. And you’ve got to make sure he gets a seat at the table. And he’s not left on the bus or left on the plane. Or anything like that.

“It’s a shared responsibility.”

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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