War­rior 100K brings wounded war­riors, vet­er­ans to­gether

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

If you could stom­ach watch­ing the news this past week­end, amid all the con­tentious dis­putes about beauty con­tests and taxes, you might have seen cov­er­age of a spe­cial moun­tain bike event.

This wasn’t an ex­treme en­durance chal­lenge or stunt jump­ing or even a race. It was the sixth an­nual War­rior 100K, an an­nual three-day ride at former Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s ranch near Craw­ford, Texas.

Each year ap­prox­i­mately 20 ser­vice­men and women wounded in the global war on ter­ror join Pres­i­dent George W. Bush for a 100-kilo­me­ter moun­tain bike ride. The W100K of­fers wounded war­riors the chance to meet other vet­er­ans, share life sto­ries and ride and cross the fin­ish line with their former com­man­der-in-chief all while spend­ing time in the great out­doors, which has played a huge part in the re­cov­ery process for many of these vet­er­ans.

As I watched the rid­ers be­ing in­ter­viewed on tele­vi­sion, I was struck by their hon­est sto­ries of how in­juries and wit­ness­ing daily car­nage caused them per­sonal strug­gles, not only phys­i­cally but men­tally as well. Many of these brave soldiers had difficulty ad­just­ing to nor­mal life upon re­turn to the United States and were di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, but they had up­beat at­ti­tudes de­spite the enor­mity of the sac­ri­fices they made and hard­ships they en­dured.

One thing stood out from all the in­ter­views — spend­ing time out­doors helped them heal.

The sto­ries the vet­er­ans told had sim­i­lar­i­ties. Many of them served mul­ti­ple tours in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Some were badly in­jured, but once they had re­cu­per­ated, re­turned quickly to the bat­tle­field for another per­ilous tour. These are very brave and ded­i­cated men and women, un­daunted in the face of dan­ger and will­ing to face any chal­lenge they were com­manded to un­der­take.

But many of them did not cope well when they re­turned home. A lot of them turned to al­co­hol to deal with the stress. Many had trou­ble with day-to-day tasks, could not con­cen­trate and some of their mar­riages were un­rav­el­ing due to the tur­moil. While ther­apy did ben­e­fit some of the vet­er­ans, many said coun­sel­ing and pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions didn’t make things bet­ter.

But out­door phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity did. The men and women who rode in the W100K cred­ited moun­tain bik­ing, along with other out­door pur­suits, for help­ing them fi­nally find peace.

Mas­ter Sgt. Josh Caron, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, con­sid­ers moun­tain bik­ing a form of ther­apy. Caron is so pas­sion­ate about its pos­i­tive ef­fect on his life that just this past June he grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Utah with a de­gree in parks, recre­ation and tourism with an em­pha­sis in ad­ven­ture and out­door pro­gram­ming.

W100K 2015 and 2016 rider Com­mand Sgt. Ma­jor Brian Flom was di­ag­nosed with PTSD and a trau­matic brain in­jury af­ter get­ting in­jured in Iraq. Flom tried coun­sel­ing. He tried all kinds of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions. Noth­ing was work­ing. A long­time moun­tain-bike rider, he got back on his bike and started rid­ing fre­quently. Now he tells his fel­low soldiers and peo­ple in his com­mu­nity the im­por­tance of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and re­lax­ing out­doors to help process the stresses we deal with in life.

Lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries, over and over the com­mon thread be­tween their re­cov­er­ies was spend­ing time out­doors. It helped them man­age stress, re­duce anx­i­ety, and treat ad­dic­tion.

What can we learn from these brave men and women? We are at a point in the year when our weather is re­ally nice. The hu­mid­ity is low, the tem­per­a­tures are cool and the leaves are just chang­ing color. Cycling, fish­ing, kayak­ing, hik­ing or just tak­ing a walk, there are count­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to get out­doors this fall.

Ev­i­dence of the re­cu­per­a­tive power of the out­doors abounds. Is it the ex­er­cise it­self or the re­duc­tion in stress you get from appreciating the glory of na­ture? I’m not a doc­tor. I just know that even the main­stream med­i­cal com­mu­nity has turned on to the ben­e­fits of na­ture. It isn’t like you are go­ing to be old one day and some­how wish you had spent a lit­tle less time out­doors. Get out there, take care of your body and your mind, and get healthy.

Hu­mana pi­lots new pro­gram

Health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies are catch­ing on that reg­u­lar out­door ac­tiv­ity can mean health­ier pa­tients. In a part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, which is cel­e­brat­ing its cen­ten­nial this year, Hu­mana is pi­lot­ing a new pro­gram called Park Rx.

When we think about pre­scrip­tions, most of us think of pills, but this new pro­gram will al­low par­tic­i­pat­ing doc­tors to write their pa­tients pre­scrip­tions for out­door ac­tiv­i­ties at lo­cal parks.

Hu­mana re­cently com­mis­sioned a sur­vey that showed 75 per­cent of Amer­i­cans think spend­ing time out­doors re­duces stress lev­els. But fewer than half of all sur­vey par­tic­i­pants had been to a park in the past year and only one in four had gone on a hike in that time pe­riod.

Hu­mana is hop­ing these pre­scrip­tions will be a cat­a­lyst to get­ting more peo­ple out­side and ex­er­cis­ing. Pa­tients will be tracked for one year and asked ques­tions to gauge their mood, life sat­is­fac­tion and feel­ings about their health along with hav­ing their blood pres­sure and body mass in­dex mon­i­tored.

And with child­hood obe­sity rates on the rise, Hu­mana is hop­ing that the Park Rx pro­gram will en­cour­age se­niors to take their grand­chil­dren with them. Sadly, kids don’t play out­side much any­more, and this pro­gram might en­cour­age kids to get out­doors and help them de­velop health­ier life­styles.

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