Warrior 100K brings wounded warriors, veterans together
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.