Using exercise as medicine: S1 Jack Brownell

By Joanie Veitch,
Trident Staff
S1 Jack Brownell

After a severe injury during basic training ten years ago, Stadacona Band member S1 Jack Brownell drew from his years of music and academic training to help him get through a long rehabilitation process — that and the PSP Reconditioning team at CFB Halifax, whose support went far beyond simply setting him up with an exercise program.

An accomplished musician, S1 Brownell holds a Ph.D in musical performance. Working with the Stadacona Band as a civilian before joining the band as a member of the Royal Canadian Navy in 2011, S1 Brownell played with professional brass quintets internationally and as the principal tubist with Symphony Nova Scotia in his earlier career. He has also taught at several universities, most recently serving on the faculty at Dalhousie University.

After his injury, he worried about his ability to work in any capacity, musical or otherwise.

“I remember back then, there were times I didn’t think I would ever get better but the PSP staff were always there; they believed in me long before I could believe in myself again,” he said. “These are the folks who know what’s hurting and know how hard you’re trying; they understand. When you’re going through something like this, that understanding is everything.

S1 Brownell was halfway through basic training at Saint-Jean, Quebec, when a training exercise on uneven ground caused severe injury to his lower back and left hip, forcing him to return home — his training incomplete and a long stretch of rehabilitation ahead of him.

As a musician, S1 Brownell is well-versed in the rigours of practice and repetition, finding parallels between the strict practice regimen music requires and the tough rehabilitation process he went through following his injury.

“Classical musicians are like athletes in the sense that they go through extremes in training and discipline, training their muscles over and over and over… sometimes not seeing the results of their efforts for months or even years. I know that and it helped me a lot as I went through this,” he said.

Even with that perspective, however, S1 Brownell reflects on that time of injury and recovery as one of the most stressful he’s ever been through, crediting Joint Personnel Support Unit staff and trainers at the PSP Reconditioning Program for getting him through rehabilitation, enabling him to maintain his position with the Stadacona Band.

Following his injury, S1 Brownell first spent time in physiotherapy before going to the PSP Reconditioning Centre — where he went every day, for two hours a day, for more than three years. The improvements were incremental at first, but as the months passed, he could see that he was on the road to recovery.

In January 2015, at 52 years of age, S1 Brownell went back to Saint-Jean to complete basic training. “I’m sure when they saw me they just thought I was this old broken guy…most of the recruits were 18- to 22-year-olds,” he laughed. “When it came time for graduation, I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t the strongest…but I won the award for the male that worked the hardest. I still look at that from time to time.”

S1 Brownell is still a regular at the PSP Reconditioning Centre, joking that at times he sees the trainers there more than he sees his work colleagues. Currently in recovery from surgery unrelated to his injury, he’s back in the PSP program, working to regain fitness and function to prepare for the FORCE test, a prerequisite for all CAF members.

Even with the various COVID restrictions that affect the in-person program at the centre, the PSP folks have set him up with a phone app with exercises for him to follow every day. As part of his cardio program, he works out on an elliptical machine at home — watching episodes of TV programs to stay motivated.

“I went through the entire West Wing and I’m working on House now,” he laughed. “I like the oldies.”

The PSP Reconditioning program is a fitness program designed to meet the demands of serving CAF members that are dealing with injury and illness. For more information, speak to your doctor or contact PSP Reconditioning Manager Kerianne Willigar at 902-402-4890 or