Enduring the long march to Nijmegen

Nijmegen marchers practice

The recruits for CFB Esquimalt’s 2013 Nijmegen March take an early morning stroll in preparation for the annual march through the Dutch countryside.

Early risers in Esquimalt can expect to see a sea of green trudging down Lampson Street. The morning military marchers are in training for the annual Nijmegen March in the Netherlands.

“It’s a physically demanding training process,” says CPO1 Chris Koblun, team leader for the CFB Esquimalt Nijmegen team. “By the time we head to the march in July we’ll have walked the distance of 30 marathons. It may be tough, but the results are worth it.”

Nijmegen March is gruelling four day trek through 160 kilometres of Dutch countryside, which participants cover in full combat uniform carrying a 10kg rucksack.

“It’s an absolutely career changing experience,” says CPO1 Koblun. “It’s very physically and emotionally demanding, but it gives you a new perception on what it means to be in the military.”

CPO1 Koblun says the experience of the Nijmegen March is one all Canadian Forces members should experience.

“Canadians are really the guests of honour there,” he says. “Civilians are excited to see the teams from other countries but when they see the Canadian flag they really go crazy.”

The Dutch adoration of the Canadian Forces stems from the final days of the Second World War when the Canadian military liberated Holland and provided citizens with food and protection.

“During the march you hear stories from the older civilians saying they wouldn’t be alive if the Canadians hadn’t saved their parents,” says CPO1 Koblun. “It can be very emotional, and very humbling. Even after all this time they’re still grateful.”

Training for the march, which began Feb. 25, is as gruelling as the event itself, and it’s not a certainty all marchers will go. 

Out of the 24 people that are trying out for the team, only 11 will go to Nijmegen. CPO1 Koblun says the difference between a prospect and team member doesn’t have to do with physical fitness.

“It’s all about personality,” he says. “This is a team venture. We need people who will support their teammates and have their best interest in mind.”

The candidates train five days a week with a combination of marches and physical training.

Each team is required to march 500km in preparation for Nijmegen, and CPO1 Koblun says most teams will get around 500-700km. The CFB Esquimalt team, however, will have around 1,250km.

“Most teams don’t start training until April, but the mild weather here lets us train more often,” says CPO1 Koblun. “By the time we get to The Netherlands our team will be at the top of their game physically.”

The excitement of Dutch civilians is something participants of the Nijmegen March will experience.

“A lot of the time you’ll see the younger kids have signature books, and they have contests to see who can get the most Canadian signatures,” says CPO1 Koblun. “If you’re not willing to participate and interact with the civilians, who are really only there to meet the Canadians sometimes, you’re not going to make the team.”

While training for this year’s team has already begun, CPO1 Koblun urges anyone interested to try out next year.

“If you’re a member of the Canadian Forces it’s something you absolutely have to experience,” he says. “It doesn’t just benefit you physically, it benefits you emotionally. It’s life changing.”

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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  1. Adwin Gallant says:

    I dine this walk 12 times since 1998…Off to do # 13 in 2023…

  2. I did the march twice 1959/60 and mete some of the Canadian lads great bunch of guys my best memory of your lads was you did it in such a fast pace so I say all the best for any of your lads who do in the coming years. Yours Michael Gough. Ex army participant Royal Signals and now age 74.

  3. Donald Shannon says:

    This brings memories of last year when my son trained for the march and went to Holland. On his return to see what it did for him made me proud. He did it for himself and his grandfather who was part of the liberating forces. I wish all those good luck and just put one keep putting one foot in front of the other

  4. Brad says:

    What a handsome looking bunch!

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