Mo­tor­cy­cle Mis­sions is bat­tling PTSD one bolt at a time

Motorcyclist - - Garage - BY ZACH BOW­MAN

a hand­ful of austin, Texas, wrenches are do­ing more than stitch­ing bikes to­gether be­neath the city’s reach­ing pe­can trees and black-winged grack­les. Mo­tor­cy­cle Mis­sions is work­ing to give vet­er­ans and first re­spon­ders suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, or PTSD, a place to re­assem­ble them­selves.

PTSD can stem from any trauma, in this case, de­fined as an event where an in­di­vid­ual be­lieves their life or the lives of oth­ers around them are in dan­ger. The De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs says that 7 to 8 per­cent of Amer­i­cans will de­velop post-trau­matic stress at some point in their lives. Those num­bers are higher in the armed forces.

In 2015, Krys­tal Hess was busy split­ting her hours be­tween nurs­ing, as­sem­bling custom bikes, and run­ning her own pow­der­coat­ing busi­ness in Austin. Texas boasts 15 ac­tive mil­i­tary bases, and she re­al­ized a good por­tion of her friends were vet­er­ans with mo­tor­cy­cles.

Hess knows what work­ing on a bike can do for a per­son. She stum­bled into mo­tor­cy­cling the hard way in 2012, left with a pile of tools and parts among the wreck­age of a re­la­tion­ship. She could have thrown it all in a dump­ster or writ­ten an ad and let some vul­ture fill his pickup to the brim. She didn’t. In­stead, she started ask­ing ques­tions.

“It was a night­mare,” she says. “I was just rid­ing back and forth through Austin go­ing from this bike shop to that bike shop, ask­ing for help. I didn’t know shit.”

It led to a chance meet­ing with a shop owner who of­fered her a deal: help as­sem­ble the pieces of a Suzuki Hayabusa in ex­change for half the pro­ceeds when the bike even­tu­ally sold. It was her first mo­tor­cy­cle and her first project.

“It wasn’t the rid­ing,” she says. “It was the work­ing on the bike and chal­leng­ing my­self and the de­sire to learn that were most ther­a­peu­tic for me. And the ca­ma­raderie around mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ing and events.”

Af­ter the Hayabusa, Hess kept putting bikes to­gether. There were shows and awards, and she found her­self with a con­tact list full of builders, fab­ri­ca­tors, and sup­pli­ers.

“Why not use this for good and share my ex­pe­ri­ence with peo­ple who wouldn’t oth­er­wise have that op­por­tu­nity?” Hess re­calls. That sim­ple no­tion be­came Mo­tor­cy­cle Mis­sions, be­gin­ning with a mo­tocross camp for a hand­ful of vets in 2016. From there, it blos­somed into bike builds and weld­ing in­struc­tion.

“We’re not just slap­ping a bike to­gether,” Hess says. “We’re building a bike that’s go­ing to shows; it’s go­ing to be high pro­file. That’s the ex­cit­ing part of it. It gives them their smile back, you know?”

We do know. It’s more than an op­por­tu­nity to stand around in a garage. It’s the chance to fall out of your own head for a mo­ment, to strug­gle against a chal­lenge and bask in the glow of over­com­ing it. It is the mir­a­cle of the mo­tor­cy­cle.

Hess says the crew will start its third build this Fe­bru­ary, but noth­ing about Mo­tor­cy­cle Mis­sions’ fu­ture is cer­tain. It’s held to­gether with her en­thu­si­asm and a small army of gen­er­ous vol­un­teers do­nat­ing ex­per­tise, shop space, and ma­te­ri­als. For now, it’s enough to keep mov­ing, to keep help­ing those who have spent their lives help­ing the rest of us.

There’s a thing called ‘I got your six’ that a lot of vet­er­ans say. There are a lot of those tat­toos tat­tooed ev­ery­where on peo­ple, but it’s true. Just let them know that you’ve got their back if they need it. Mo­tor­cy­cles are our way of giv­ing them an out­let so that those days don’t come. So that they don’t need to make those phone calls. They go home feel­ing good about them­selves; they go home feel­ing ac­com­plished. – Krys­tal Hess

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