Running Rapids and Roasted Marshmallows in Montrose, Colorado

Hello Team R4V friends. My name is Mat and I recently attended the 2016 Summer Camp put on by Team R4V and the Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte, CO. I had a great time paddling a canoe and camping all week.

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The ASC was very helpful in my planning process. They provided vital information about the details of the trip. It was important for me to know in advance that we would head straight to the campsite after departing the plane, and go straight from the backwoods to the plane ride home again. (We were able to shower at the Ranger Station before boarding the plane again)

The meals were perfect for camping. I was surprised when we had lasagna. It was delicious, and made at a campsite. Very impressive Jared, Lindsey, and Ethan. You guys did a great job of feeding everyone all week long. No one went hungry.

We had to overcome a wildly unexpected log jam. It was an incredible experience. Logs covered the water across the entire river and for as far as any eyes could see. We couldn’t paddle through it. Our Guides had to jump out of their canoe and pull us by hand. It took a while, but it was fun to sit back and enjoy the very slow and comfortable ride. The coolest part is that the log jam trapped us at our second campsite for a night. This site had the most incredible views of the trip. There were gorgeous mountains and running rapids.
I didn’t really know what to expect throughout the trip. It rained a lot and we were on the water every day paddling the mighty Blue Mesa Reservoir.

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There wasn’t a whole lot of wildlife unfortunately. But I did see quite a few chipmunks. Those little critters are silly. I got a good sense of how sensitive the animals are to our trash and food though. There were bear boxes at every campsite to make sure that unnecessary interactions don’t happen. We made sure to dispose of everything properly. It felt good to be that thoughtful of other living things and their environment.

Our Guides were fantastic. They were extremely knowledgeable and they all had great personalities to go along with the experience. It was a lot of fun sitting around the pop-up kitchen and BS’ing.

Most notably for me, I must say, are the other veterans! To Ron, Zarah, Jenn, and John I say thank you for the week of fun. I had a blast roasting marshmallows and making half-inappropriate jokes with you all.

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This was a great trip for me! I had a blast, and being in the backwoods for several days forced me to unplug from society and just enjoy the calm of nature. I learned a lot as well. Our mantra for the canoes was ‘rig to flip’. I got to see how to rig days worth of gear onto a few canoes and paddle away from all society. We paddled from campsite to campsite, an all new endeavor for me. Thank you ASC and Team R4V for this amazing opportunity. I’ve felt great since my return and know that I made some new friends along the way. Awesome!

-Mat Henigsmith

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Baseball is Synonymous with Spring

Damian “Chief” Orslene is training hard to make the 2016 Paralympic Throwing Team, but he also understands the importance of rest. Chief writes about an exciting baseball season opener from his vantage point on the field.

It is the sure sign that Spring is here. Baseball. I have always loved Baseball. So when I got the invite to be the “Special Guest” for the Pensacola Pirates season Opener how could I refuse? You won’t find me parked in front of a television on a Saturday afternoon watching other people play pitch and catch, but to come to the ballpark, be in the dugout and stand right there with the Third base Coach while it’s being all played out live…now my friends…That is baseball. It was fun…with a very serious undertone. For that is what baseball is. It is the time-honored harbinger of Spring. It takes that responsibility very seriously, at every level. Every Player who comes to bat is playing that tape in their head where they are hitting the winning home running in Game Seven of the World Series. I know, because I did it. This is serious stuff Baseball… it is what dreams are made of. And tonight was no different.

I had a great time, but as the game wound into its final inning and the Home team, the Pirates, came up for their final at Bats, down two runs…the laughing had stopped. No one likes to lose at Baseball. I was standing with the Third Base Coach, a few feet away from the Third Base bag, watching as he dug a little hole with his toe while signing to the batters what he wanted them to do. ”Get on base you idiots”…was what all that furry of hands signs meant and they listened, for amongst a weak grounder to third and pop out to left, we got a walk and a single, so suddenly we had runners on first and second with two outs. God I love Baseball. That feeling of Hope that stays beating in your chest, that knowledge that anything is possible. Then the third base coach sighed, and dug his toe deeper into the ground. He stared hard at the score board “What’s the matter Coach?” I asked. He pointed with a nod of his head at a squatty young man coming to the plate, his bat balanced precariously on his right shoulder. “Joey Devine”…the Toe Digging Coach said. “Great Catcher…crappy hitter”. And I too turned to look at Joey Devine and instantly loved him. For those very words had been used to describe me for all nine years of my catching career. Look a Mini-Me. Joey dug into batter’s box with his right foot, keeping his left foot out of the box and stared down the third base line hard for a sign. Toe Digger beside me snorted under his breath…”What’s he expect me to tell him to do?…bunt?” and he sent the signal to swing for the fence back to Joey who accepted it with a slight nod as if he expected to be allowed to swing away anyways. He pounded the plate with his bat, swung his left foot into the box and settled in to wait the pitch. The once loud ballpark had gone silent and I found I was holding my breath. I could see Joey’s brow crinkled in concentration, his Under Armour battling gloves pulled tight as he held the bat in a nervous death grip. The Pitcher took the sign from the catcher and in a tangle of arms and legs fired a perfect strike to the middle of the plate. And Joey…bunted.

In a flash he had turned his feet, slid his hands along his bat and laid down the most perfect bunt you had ever seen down the third base line! No one in the park expected a bunt! He exploded out of the box towards first base, the Catcher yelled and leapt down the line to be met by a charging Third Baseman who had gotten caught totally unawares. But…Third baseman are special people, he yelled for the Catcher to get out of the way, and the Catcher dove to the ground, as the Third Baseman snatched the ball up bare handed and off balanced, one leg completely off the ground, his body almost perpendicular to the field, he fired the ball towards First Base. Joey was yelling at the top of his lungs and churning his squat Catcher legs as fast as they would go. The entire park had erupted at his audacity and joined in his yelling as if noise volume would help him go faster. The runner that had been on second was already rounding third and heading for home, if Joey could only get to First. The First Baseman, with his special First Baseman’s mitt, stretched his entire body out, reaching with every fiber, for the round ball that was growing in size by the second. And Joey ran with all his heart. And the First Baseman reached…and reached…and the ball…sailed right over his head!

The ball went right over his head and right down the first base fence, and Joey slammed his foot into First base, his concentration so complete that he had no idea that the ball had gone over their heads. “Run Joey Run” yelled the First Base Coach pointing to the ball rolling down the fence, the Right Fielder giving chase, and a huffing and puffing Joey launched himself towards second. One runner had scored and the runner that had been on first was now rounding third! This was getting exciting! We almost had a tied Game!

Joey stopped with both feet on second base just as the ball zipped past the Second Baseman’s out stretched gloved, skipped across the ground at Joey’s feet and headed out towards Left Field. Amongst the outpouring of noise that was erupting around me I now heard the Toe Digger beside me yelling “Run Joey Run”. And with a resigned shrug, he did. The little catcher that can catch, but can’t hit, pushed off from Second Base and with a furrowed brow and swinging arms that one hopes will propel tired legs a little faster…he ran. The Left Fielder chased down the ball just as Joey lumbered up to me and I was amazed at the flood of memories this event brought back of my own ballpark days. I love baseball.

But my trip down memory lane was cut short as a pair of hands grabbed my shoulder and pushed me down while yelling “look out”. Toe Digger and I lay sprawled on the grass as the Left Fielder’s attempt to end this evening’s adventure went horribly awry and his throw nearly took off our heads. Joey standing on Third Base, looked down at us, laying tangled in the grass, and the ball banging around the backstop behind home plate and he shrugged. He lifted his arms, dropped them, blew out air like an old steam locomotive and stepped off third base like a man on a mission and…he charged down that third base line. Toe digger and I flipped over and got to our knees to watch the squatty Catcher, his arms swinging back and forth, the Game 7 World Series tape playing in his head, run towards home plate with the winning run in his shoes. The dugouts had emptied, which is against the rules, but no one seemed to care, everyone was on their feet. The Catcher snagged the ball from behind the backstop and turned to see Joey heading for Home. He surged towards the plate, his left hand squeezing the ball hard into his glove, his right hand squeezing the glove shut in anticipation of the train wreck of meeting what was about to happen 15 feet away. And Joey ran. The Home Plate Umpire leaned in just inches from the plate, the catcher leaped the final feet, his arms outstretched one over the other protecting the ball just like all catchers are taught, and…with his final bit energy…Joey threw himself into a slide. The Catcher swung his arms swiping down, but found only empty air, for Joey hadn’t slid at the plate but rather had slid right at the Home Plate Umpire who had to leap to get out of the way and watched intently as Joey slid his Under Armour Glove across Home Plate as he went by. “SAFE”!!!! Came the Call. And Toe Digger, the Third Base Coach, grabbed me and hugged me and we rolled onto the grass again slapping each other on the backs in joy for Joey. The Team snatched the exhausted Bunter from the ground, pounding him on the back in elation for their unexpected victory.

Toe Digger and I joined the Team and once they settled down he asked the question that was foremost in my mind of the little Catcher. “Joey..why did you bunt?” The exhausted little man looked up, his faced that of total confusion, “That’s the sign you sent me Coach” he said repeating on his arms exactly what I saw the Third Base Coach Toe Digger do. The Coach opened his mouth to speak…stopped…thought about and replayed in his mind what he meant to do, and what he instead did…”Yes, I guess it is” he said, looking at me. I shrugged. “Well that ended well”…”Yes it did, and that is why I so love Baseball.” And the Coach smiled.

“Let’s get this cleaned up and go get some Pizza!” the coach yelled and the dugout erupted once more. And again I smiled. It never leaves you, that feeling that anything is possible.

On that day I was surrounded by the Pensacola Pirates Little League Team comprised of exuberant nine year olds who took their baseball very, very seriously. Maybe not as seriously as going out for pizza, but still, seriously.

Baseball. It warms your heart, the smell of the leather, the feel of the grass beneath your feet, the sound of a ball popping into a glove…it reminds us that we are alive and well, and we can shake off another winter, come out of hibernation and do with this summer whatever we want. It is a sure sign, a harbinger of the great things to come, I love baseball for that.Chief2

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Not Every Day Is Rainbows And Butterflies

You all remember Damian Orslene (aka Chief). Well, he’s back! And on a mission to make the 2016 Paralympic Throwing Team. Chief reminds us that there are lessons to be learned from even the worst days.

Today sucked. Not in a someone died or we wrecked the car kind of way, but in a, it started out so well: then turned to mud, sort of way. Know what I mean? I woke up feeling pretty good and was really looking forward to the day’s workout. My Coach, (whom I love dearly and hate vehemently at any given moment) and I are in a very heavy lifting phase right now. We are building the power, strength and mass I will need to throw the Shot Put 11 meters at the Paralympic Trials at the End of June in order to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio in September. That is what I do. I am a Thrower. An F34, in Paralympic speak, a Seated Thrower, and to throw an 8lb ball, from a chair, really far, you spend your entire winter in the weight room. Or so I am told by my Hungarian Despot of a Coach…whom I love. (He will read this at some point and I really don’t want to do more core work then I already am.) So, the day started out well. But by 8AM my phone had pinged 10 times with alerts of the impending storm that was crashing its way across the Gulf and headed right for us in Pensacola, FL. With it came a huge pressure change. I was wounded in Iraq in 2007 and amongst my injuries is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that reacts quite violently to changes in barometric pressure.IMG_0014

Normally on Mondays and Thursdays I drive an hour from Pensacola to Atmore, AL to workout with my Coach, but this Monday was President’s Day, so we decided to switch my drive day to Tuesday, allowing me to workout at my amazing YMCA in town.

As the morning progressed, the pressure in my head built up like the 2011 Stock Exchange while my energy level crashed, more like last week’s DOW. I did not feel like working out. I just wanted to sit on the couch and let this storm pass and call it a day. Start over tomorrow. I heard this little voice inside my head saying: what does one day matter? Take it easy,…rest. You’re no Spring Chicken you know.”

I hate that voice. Coach and I spent a lot of time talking about when it is time to push and when it is time not to. When you are hurt, or if you have a whole bunch of warning lights blinking inside your head…then one day in the big picture isn’t going to matter. But…those one days add up. And I know a Chinese Guy, an Iranian and personally know the Canadian ahead of me on the World Ranking list that are probably in the gym this morning. So…I got off the couch and I went. It sucked.

I wish I could report that it was one of those times where you don’t feel like going to the gym and then you get there and it is one of your best workouts ever!!! It was not. It was 50 sets of pure hell. It seemed to take forever. The pressure in my skull was so great that I could feel every drop of sweat as it rolled off my bald head. When it was done I sat on the end of a bench in the weight room with no huge sense of accomplishment, but rather a sense of relief.  Then I drug myself home. The storm was horrible. We have friends who lost their store to a tornado but everyone we know survived.

In that is the lesson. We have survived. Somedays that workout is going to suck. It is going to be the last thing in the world you want to do. But…we are here…and we can do it. So we should. If not for us, then for all those that would give their eyeteeth to be standing or sitting where you are. We survived. We get to see what tomorrow brings as it erupts over the horizon like Hope Eternal. The idea is to do it anyway. And know that they won’t all suck. Somedays they are downright good. Live for those. Get through the rest. It’s the only way I know how to do it. Dream Big. Live Large. Throw Far!IMG_0019

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The Upside to Downhill Skiing

John Lira, Team R4V member since 2014, writes about his unique experience at Team R4V’s Winter Camp at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, CO.

My plane touched down at a tiny airport in Gunnison, CO at the same time as the first massive snow storm of the year for the area. I was in Colorado to meet up with seven other Team R4V veteran athletes and participate in a week-long skiing and snowboarding retreat at Mt. Crested Butte. After grabbing my baggage from the only turnstile in the small airport, I met up with a representative from the Adaptive Sports Center (ASC) and three of the other veterans to begin our journey to the quaint little town of Crested Butte. We took turns asking the driver questions in excitement as our van maneuvered up and around the snow covered roads. We all expected the week ahead would be unlike anything we had ever experienced, but none of us could have anticipated the challenge and triumphs that awaited.

IMG_0652When we arrived at Crested Butte, the snow was falling at a rapid rate and accumulating in massive mounds on the sides of the streets. I had never seen so much snow in my life and the region was expecting much more in the coming days. We arrived at the spacious house ASC had reserved for us and joined with Team R4V trip leaders, Bethany Pribila and Cami Gage, who were busy preparing the first of many hardy dinners for the team. Within the next few hours the rest of our teammates arrived and, as the sun set, we gathered around the table to introduce ourselves and talk about the exciting week ahead. The amazing dinner sparked intriguing conversations between all members of the team and we quickly learned that our military experiences varied just as much as our skiing and snowboarding experience.

On Monday, morning we awoke to what can only be described as a full-force blizzard. IMG_0654Visibility was low and so were my expectations on the slopes. After a great breakfast that included some of the best maple brown sugar covered bacon I had ever tasted (thank you, Cami!), we walked over to the community bus stop as a group and made our way to the renowned Mt. Crested Butte to meet our instructors at the Adaptive Sports Center. Mt. Crested Butte was absolutely breath-taking, though the peak was hardly visible through the snowfall. It seemed like the entire community had taken the day off to hit the slopes and take advantage of the massive snowfall. Over two feet of snow fell during our first day on Mt. Crested Butte which made learning how to ski and snowboard almost impossible, but made wiping-out fun and painless.

After meeting our ASC instructors, we picked which activity we would be doing—skiing or snowboarding – and got fitted for our gear. I picked skiing because I heard it was easier to learn.IMG_0674 I began learning from my instructor well before I snapped into my skis for the first time. After suiting up, we went out to begin our first lesson. All the ASC instructors were engaging and supportive. My instructor’s name was Richard and I was grateful he was with me to provide instructions, advice, and support. With his help, I was quickly able to advance past the training flats and was ready to catch my first lift ride up a slope. My confidence on skis grew as I learned how to balance myself, turn, and how to stop, kinda. My first day on the mountain was productive, but it was not without monumental wipeouts. After recapping what we learned and worked on with our instructors, we all made our way back to the house- exhausted, hungry, and eager to talk about our experiences on the mountain. Day one concluded with another great gathering around the table were we ate dinner together and shared our most exciting takeaways of the day.

The rest of the week progressed in a similar manner. The ten of us ate breakfast and dinner as a group and hit the slopes during the day to perfect our skiing and snowboarding techniques. There was a comforting consistency of great food, laughter, and encouragement on and off the slopes. Bethany and Cami’s enthusiasm kept the crew motivated day in and day out, while the ASC instructors provided constant critiquing and companionship up and down the mountain. For me, skiing got marginally easier as the slopes got significantly steeper.

JohnOn Wednesday, we took a break from skiing to do ice climbing. I think we all learned a little more about ourselves that day as we struggled to overcome bitterly cold weather and the effects of gravity. Ice climbing is not an easy endeavor in the best of conditions, but one of our teammates, Jess Moore, refused to let the frozen wall get the best of her. Jess’s methodical climb to the very top of the wall is one of the most amazing and motivating acts of physical courage and fortitude I have ever witnessed. Her conquering of the ice wall would spark a trend of the women making the men look like wimps that continued the next day when the women volunteered to go on an uphill skiing excursion while the men took it easy down the slopes.

Jess (professional)IMG_0695In the end there were three great takeaways from the Team R4V/ASC Winter Camp that should encourage anybody to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. The first great takeaway was the pristine environment and atmosphere of the town of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte in particular. This secluded piece of America has some of the most sought after slopes in the world and we all felt privileged for the opportunity to be there. The next great takeaway was the amazing amount of support and encouragement from boIMG_0726th the Team R4V leadership and the ASC staff. Because of their efforts, the entire week was well organized and ran smoothly. Their positive attitudes ensured the atmosphere was never tense and always energized and cheerful. The final great takeaway from our trip, was the friendship and camaraderie that developed within the crew. We may have arrived as strangers, but though the week we really got to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. It was reiterated that some veterans have physical scars and some have mental, but all veterans appreciate the company of other veterans and the confrontat
ion of a challenge. We all left Crested Butte with a deep respect for each other and a reaffirmed affection for bacon. The Team R4V/ASC Winter Retreat offered each of us an opportunity to step away from our everyday routines and connect with nature and veterans in a way that was therapeutic and challenging at the same time.IMG_0723

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Raw and Unfiltered

J Regester Uniform

Team R4V Marine Corps Team August Warrior Athlete Spotlight: Jason Regester, USAF

Editor’s Note: As we head into the home stretch for the Marine Corps Marathon, training is well underway. Those racing are putting in the miles and making the choices necessary every week to have a successful race. This is the LAST month to sign up to race with us!
 
Whether you’re racing with us, training with us, or cheering us on, the inspiring stories from the wounded warriors running with us have contained lessons on perseverance, tenacity, humility, grit, and the honest realities of war, illness, and adversity. We hope that through our athletes’ bravery and sharing their stories, you can both take applicable lessons into your own lives, as well as appreciate the impact YOUR generosity has had on the lives of others.
This Month, we feature Air Force athlete Jason Regester’s story. A long time member of Team R4V, Jason shares his struggle with us for the first time. At the end of the day, his eloquent, raw words tell the story better than we ever could, so they are left as they stand. I hope they leave you as inspired as they have left us. Click here to join Jason and Team R4V at the Marine Corps Marathon and 10km!
 
Why did you choose to join the military?
We have a long line of military service in my family, so I knew from a very young age that I was going to hold that line and serve a minimum of 4 years in the military.
Can you tell me about your injury and the surrounding event?
It happened in the “Green Zone” in Baghdad, Iraq. We received incoming rocket and mortar attacks on a daily basis, but on 21 June 2007 a 120mm mortar landed within 100’ of me. Although I didn’t suffer shrapnel damage, the blast left me with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), permanent hearing damage, and tinnitus.
How did Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) change you and your relationship?
PTSD killed me. I might have survived physically, but the person I was died and never came home. It took a little bit of time, but it eventually destroyed my marriage. The medications I was given that were supposed to help make me feel better slowly stripped away all feelings and any emotional responses I had (positive or negative), so I became a zombie that didn’t care about anything or anyone, including myself. I fell into a deep depression and began pushing people away and cutting ties so I could minimize collateral damages when I’d become one of the twenty-two.
What challenges has your injury brought to your life?
It’s been 8 years. The PTSD and things inside never go away. I might look like I’m in a wonderful mood or smiling at you but most times it’s just a mask or a front. I’ve become an expert at showing people what they want to see. I have a lot of difficulties with remembering things that I never had problems with before. Hearing is extremely difficult and nearly impossible with background noise, and the tinnitus/ringing never goes away. I’m always on edge and easily startled.
Did you have a turning point in your healing?

As far as healing is concerned I always tell the truth and that is that I’m not better, but I’m better than I was.

A massive turning point came when I had basically given up all hope and was rapidly approaching the end of my existence. I was talking with my commander and a counselor, and they offered to send me to an in-patient facility to take some time and just focus on myself. The place they presented looked great on paper and in the photos and their description sounded really nice. That turned out to not be the case at all but I won’t go into great detail about that.

I was able to get a glimpse of clarity through the fog and upright myself a little bit. Once I was released from the hospital I still had to deal with everything and still battle my depression. I forced myself to get up and get moving by hiking and running, because if I stayed isolated I’d just fall deeper into depression. I still have bad days, but being active really helps a lot.

Running is my best avenue to do that. I keep running forward so I don’t slide back.


What role has sport played in your rehabilitation and reintegration?

Sport gives me both an outlet and a focus. When I’m out on a run it’s just me and my feet and some music. It’s a great Zen moment for me because it helps me calm my mind which is normally racing a million miles an hour and keeps me from dwelling on things.
J Regester Race
How is Team R4V supporting you in achieving your goals?
R4V has been amazing and has helped with both emotional and financial support as well as being able to get some expert coaching.
What is an example of how sport has taught you a lesson which applied to the rest of your life?
When you’re out on the run you can quit but it’s the same as in life, if you just keep quitting you’ll never get anywhere.

Jason, we wish you all the best as you prepare for the Marine Corps Marathon, and we are proud to have you as part of our TEAM. See you in October!

This is the LAST month to sign up to race with us! Please click here to join us! Contact patriotracing@teamr4v if you have any questions.

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Team R4V Welcomes CEO

Team Racing for Veterans (Team R4V) is pleased to announce that Bethany Pribila has accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer with the organization. Bethany joins the staff after founding Team R4V in 2011 and serving on a volunteer basis since that time. She has been instrumental in developing Team R4V’s Patriot Racing Team, the largest fundraising arm of the organization.

bethany-pribila

Says Jimmy Martello, Chairman of the Board of Directors, of Bethany’s new role:

It gives me great pleasure to inform the veteran community that Bethany Pribila has accepted a position as Chief Executive Officer of Team Racing for Veterans.  Since founding the organization in 2011, her leadership has been instrumental to our organization giving back to our nation’s greatest heroes.  With her at the helm, I am convinced this organization will reach new levels of support.

Prior to joining Team R4V, Bethany practiced energy law for more than a decade – most recently serving as general counsel to an energy management and consulting firm in Minneapolis. Bethany looks forward to devoting herself full-time to fulfilling Team R4V’s mission of empowering wounded, ill and injured veterans through sport.

For more information about Team R4V, please visit www.TeamR4V.org. To contact Bethany, email her at BethanyPribila@TeamR4V.org.

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Running is my True North

Editor’s Note:  This month’s feature is a Marine and long-time member of Team R4V. His primary goal for this race is to recruit a team of his fellow Marines to run the Marine Corps Marathon and give to an organization that has helped him heal. For July 4th, we couldn’t think of a more deserving athlete to feature! Join John and Team R4V at the Marine Corps Marathon by clicking here.

John Lira came from humble beginnings. Unable to afford college, a fortuitous encounter with a Marine recruiter as a high school senior gave him pause, causing him to evaluate his purpose and his future. He hasn’t looked back since that night.

FB_IMG_1435420472383In 2005, John was deployed to Iraq for the second time.  It was during this deployment to the Al Anbar province to battle an out of control insurgency that 48 marines and sailors lost their lives. John was involved in a mortar blast, resulting in a loss of consciousness and subsequent injuries and hearing loss. He also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both from the incident and loss of lives–loss of his friends and brothers.

Both physical injuries and PTSD took a toll on his life upon his return. Newly married with a baby on the way, it was difficult to relate when he returned home. He and his wife were on two different tracks. Says John,

My wife and I were on two different spectrums. For nine months, she was dealing with the beauty of motherhood. I was dealing with the horrors of war. We both wanted sympathy and weren’t giving it to each other.

Torn between two lives–the life of combat and the life at home, John continued to struggle. The sounds, smells, and sights of war “stuck around longer than I wanted them to.” He missed those who never made it back and mourned their loss. He recounts,

I was trained to be a Marine, but I was not trained to be a husband and father. I wanted to be with my wife, but I wanted to be with my combat friends.

At one point, John hit rock bottom, and attended a men’s church retreat. There, he was able to let go and find peace. He started attending VA PTSD counseling sessions, which helped tremendously. And running became his constant companion.

Running was the one thing that gave me self-assurance and confidence. You can quit 1,000 times during a run, but that next step is what makes you stronger.

He has a profound sense of gratitude being able to run, recognizing that there are so many who can no longer run due to their injuries. Running is processing, meditative time for him. For John,

Running is my true north.
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Joining Team R4V gave his running purpose and fulfilled his competitive spirit as well. Says John about toeing the line at the start of a race,

It’s just fun to step up to the line and see where you stand, especially against yourself.

John has competed at Marine Corps Marathon, as well as the Army 10-miler and a myriad of other races. Says John of the support he has received from Team R4V in training and racing:

The training newsletters help a great deal in my preparation for these races. The Facebook athlete page allows me to cheer on others while posting my accomplishments, and the race support allows me to not worry about financial burden so I can give it my all. I love being a part of a team, especially one that advocates for veterans and encourages them at the same time.

John, we wish you all the best as you prepare yourself and your team of Marines for the Marine Corps Marathon, and we are proud and honored to have you as part of our TEAM. See you in October!

Join John and the TEAM! Get started here.

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Fighting the Pain

Craig Vogtsberger, avid paratriathlete, is at it again. Moving forward, pushing himself, and fighting through the pain to achieve his goals!

Craig Vogtsberger Race Recap:
2015 Monterrey CAMTRI Triathlon American Championships

My first race of the season was a little nerve racking. I had to travel to Mexico and anytime I travel out of the country I struggle. I worry about getting sick. I worry about needing medical care. I worry about having my worst days because of my disabilities. I worry about being so far from home.

I pack and try to cover every imaginable scenario, but I know I can’t think of them all. This time I purchased travel insurance and travel medical coverage before I left. I try to think of everything, but it’s not possible having a multitude of injuries and disabilities, including a closed head injury, incomplete spinal cord injury, autonomic insufficiency, and partial paralysis of three limbs.

The trip from home to Mexico ended up being uneventful and smooth. But once I arrived the adventure started. I can speak a few words of Spanish, only enough to get to the bathroom and get some water. Arranging transportation to the hotel would have been a challenge, but luckily, I ended up being on a plane with another Paratriathlete that speaks Spanish and our transportation to the hotel was arranged through him.

My extensive allergies and immune system issues makes eating out dangerous, so foreign travel results in me cooking and eating camping food in my hotel room. Cooking consists of plug in coils that heat the water and bags of dried camping food. This was even more difficult in Mexico because safe water is difficult to find. I had read the safety warning before leaving the states: only drink bottled water. So, everyday the most important task was buying bottled water to drink and to cook with.

Everyone has their own challenges in the off season and I wasn’t any different. I was in the hospital at the beginning of April with pneumonia and 103 degree temperature. I also, ran into the wall with my pinkie toe on my good foot and it was still swollen and black and blue. My recovery had gone well, but I was not 100% on race day, May 1st.

I followed my usual race preparation. I try and relax for the few days leading up to the race. Hydration and nutrition are key, especially when traveling. I watched and listened to my body, moved and trained when needed, ate when hungry, and napped when tired.

Despite the water, food and health issues, the race venue was one of the nicest I’ve been to and was fun to race on. The swim was in a partially elevated “river.” The bike was on a closed road, in a really nice park. The run followed the river and went through the park.

The hardest part of racing is being away from my family. I always miss them and wish they were with me. My boys, Eli and Gabe, had school and sports. Luckily, the race was on a Friday and I only had to miss two practices and would make it back for their games on the weekend.

Race morning came and we all lined up for the check in and equipment inspection. ITU races require race numbers on all of our equipment: helmet, bag, bike, and some of our assistance devices. I always get to races early on race day. It helps my nerves. It helps me to relax. I was about 6th in line for check in and once they opened it, it went quickly. I was to my bike rack and set up in no time. Then the wait started.

The problem with getting to the race site so early is the long wait for the race to start. Sometimes transitions open up 2 hours before the race starts and I’m one of the first ones setting up. I think I became comfortable with the early arrival, because of a couple races where I either forgot something in the car and didn’t have enough time to go back and/or couldn’t get a good space on the transition racks to lay out all my triathlon equipment and braces.

Finally the race began and I waited patiently in the shade for my wave to start. Although I felt calm, my heart rate seemed a little high. I worried a little because in past races an elevated heart rate, while resting before a race, meant that my autonomic nervous system wasn’t working efficiently. In the past, this high heart rate has had really bad effects during race on my body. I hoped that it would work itself out during the race and I’d be fine. I watched each wave before mine head out in the elevated river and disappear around the corner. They announced each of our names as we lined up at the start line. They gave us a 30 sec warning and then the gun sounded.

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The river is about 10 yards wide, 5 feet deep, with a walkway on each side and a swim line down the middle. One of my competitors took a quick lead and I could just see him ahead of me. When I turned my head to breath, I could see a coach from another country running alongside the river yelling and motioning to someone behind me. I focused on my breathing and stroke and tried to get into a good rhythm. My heart rate and breathing struggled all through the swim, no matter if I swam fast or slowed a little. It was uncomfortable, but I made it through without any major problems.

I exited the swim in 4th place and made my way down to transition on the wet slippery pavement. Transition seemed to take a little longer than usual and my time afterward was a minute too long. Once I got my shoes and helmet on, I ran my bike to the mount line and headed out on the course. It was a 6 lap course and I was really worried about miscounting. The course had a lot of “S” curves and turns, so it ended up being a lot of sprinting, cornering and losing speed, then sprinting again. I followed one of the racers, not in my category, around the course for several laps. We biked very similarly, so the distance between us rarely changed. It was nice to have someone ahead of me that I could monitor my effort, which left me the ability to really watch my heart rate and breathing.

I felt pretty good on the bike, but several times my heart rate increased and I started having trouble breathing. This happened randomly, sometimes when I would pick up speed, other times when I was just holding a pace. It is always a struggle when my heart and lungs are not functioning, but I push through it and continue on. I passed 3 of the athletes in my category, but knew they would probably pass me on the run. The run is where my nervous system and body struggle the most, even on my good days.

The transition to the run went faster than swim to bike. I felt good on the 1st ½ mile, then my body started breaking down. I could feel the heat and strain on my body. I moved as fast as I could without struggling to breathe, but the pain in my body increased greatly. It is a big mind game at this point, because everything in my body and mind are telling me to stop, walk, slow down, and quit. I fight it. I know how nice it would be to stop, to rest, to not push so hard, but I fight it. The pain form my spine injury on a good day is a 7.5, but on days like these when everything is breaking down and I’ve pushed through so much pain trying to breath and move, the pain is beyond a 10.

When I get to this point in races, the point of quitting because of pain and my body struggling, I know if I just keep moving forward I can finish. If I keep going, maybe I can keep some of the lead I gained on the bike. My hope was to at least hold onto 3rd place, but the athletes I passed on the bike, passed me on the run, plus one other. I finished 5th.

I couldn’t hold my lead for third in this race and that was ok. I struggled with traveling and I made it through. I stressed about my heart rate and breathing, which did affect me, but I pushed through it. The extreme pain always comes at some point, but I push through it. Getting through each day is a struggle for me with all my disabilities and problems, so racing in an international race and finishing is quite an accomplishment.

I am proud of my finish. Proud to be back home with my wife, Brittany, and my boys. Proud that I didn’t quit. Proud that I continue to move forward in life and sport, despite all my challenges and all those that never thought I could do it. So, thank you to all those that supported me and encouraged me during my worst times and all those that stuck with me to my best times. Thank you for your support Team R4V!

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PTSD: Out of the Dark Through Sport

Editor’s Note: This month’s spotlight features TWO of our TEAM members and highlights one of the invisible wounds of war: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We focus on a dual military couple, one of whom serves as a caregiver to the other. Meet George and Crystal Stiltner and hear their story about sport’s impact on healing.  1456694_1014660341881194_6547215247499291996_n 

Join the Stiltners and Team R4V at the 2015 MCM

David “George” Stiltner has a smile that is infectious, as well as dark, focused eyes. He is a quick study in both shot put and archery. His wife, Crystal, is the endurance junkie of the pair. An avid marathoner, fitness has always been a part of her life. And today, the family who plays together, stays together. But it wasn’t always this way.

The two were stationed together in Japan. While George found Crystal attractive, it was her morals and values that set her apart. Says George, a city boy of his “queen”:
She was straight up country, in that she couldn’t tell a lie and didn’t use profanity. She was beautiful, but her ideals were the most attractive thing about her.

Initially, Crystal thought he might be “too goofy”, ever the jokester. But that jovial attitude and his drive won her over. Says Crystal, full of pride,
George worked hard and won every award. He was incredibly driven, and had a great sense of humor.

The two were successful together: Crystal was selected as the first female sniper to a special unit; George achieved his fourth degree black belt in Ninjitsu. They trained together to prepare for the demands placed upon them by their jobs. They married, had children and started a promising life together.

Then things changed.

George served several tours in Iraq: working regularly in the morgue in 2003; and as a first sergeant embedded with an Army unit, the 25th Infantry Division, in 2006. His unit lost 13 soldiers, and two other airmen were wounded by sniper rounds.

Once home, George was a different man. His normally driven, calm demeanor was replaced by a short fuse and depression. His heightened sense of alert caused him to gradually become more reclusive, spending up to 19 hours per day in his room. Crystal, a licensed counselor with a PhD in Counseling Studies, says that while her education enabled her to “recognize symptoms more quickly and identify available resources,”  it was still incredibly hard for her to help her husband. Unfortunately, like so many service members, George suffers from PTSD. On the brink of divorce, George reached out to the VA and a member of his church, and the path to healing began.

Enter sport.

Of his first experience participating in a training camp  and subsequently making the Air Force team for the Warrior Games, Crystal says, her voice trembling:
That experience saved his life.
Says George:
I didn’t want to go. I didn’t feel like I belonged there or that I deserved to go. My teammates embraced me, saying ‘OF COURSE you belong.’ They were all experiencing the same things. I felt like part of the team again.”
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With the help of his coaches, George had a new focus and a team depending on him. Air Force coach and officer, Buddy Lizzol, gave him:
the motivation to work on technique and get back into shape…Archery and Shot Put were something he continuously saw progress doing. He was seeing positive results.
And both were grateful for the team he had behind him, every step of the way.

PTSD is not easy. Its symptoms can decrease over time, but there are still triggers. George cannot go to a veterans ceremony. It is just too much. They live near a range, where live fire occurs often. As a caregiver, Crystal helps mitigate triggers–on TV, and outside. Sport helps.

Sport helps us build bonds as a family. We get outside in the sunshine. We do speed workouts together.

George runs the 1-mile race with their 5-year-old son, and he runs 5ks with their youngest daughter. Their oldest, now married, comes home to visit, and they do Crossfit together.
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With archery equipment provided by Team R4V, George has been able to set up a range in the backyard. He bought a bow that his daughter and Crystal share, and the family goes outside to shoot. He took up hunting again after a long hiatus. In short, sport got him out of the bedroom and back with the family, and it continues to this day to be a bonding force that holds them together.
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Thanks to his family and thanks, in part, to the healing power of sport, George has taken back his life.

THANK YOU to Crystal and George for bravely sharing your story and representing so many others who have stood in your shoes. In the fall, look for this loving, supportive couple rocking the Team R4V shirt at the Marine Corps Marathon and 10 km – Crystal will be tackling her first marathon in the craziest socks she can find; George may be sporting a tutu for the 10 km. And no doubt, the R4V TEAM will be cheering them on in their training and racing journey every step of the way. Good luck, you two!

Categories: R4V Blog Roll, R4V Sponsored Veterans | Leave a comment

No Excuses…Just be Awesome!

Editor’s Note: This year, not only will Team R4V founders, board members and staff be running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and 10km, but Team R4V will also have a large number of wounded warriors in its ranks! Each month, we will be featuring one of these extraordinary warrior athletes. This month meet Daniel Crane, who will be tackling the marathon distance for the first time on October 25th!

Join Daniel and Team R4V at the 2014 MCM!

Daniel Crane rucks it out at the San Antonio Rock and Roll Half last December

Daniel Crane rucks it out at the San Antonio Rock and Roll Half last December

On the evening of July 28, 2012, R4V athlete Daniel Crane’s life was forever altered. Stationed in Guam, Daniel had his Air Force Security Forces career ahead of him. The son of an Air Force Intelligence Analyst, Daniel was following the footsteps of his father and a life he knew well through his example–traveling the world, serving his country, and helping others.

His path changed in an instant when an anti-military civilian shot him at point-blank range. The bullet severely injured his right arm, causing permanent nerve and bone damage and striking an artery. After being stabilized in Guam, Daniel was evacuated to Hawaii. After eight surgeries and several attempts to regenerate nerves, Daniel finally opted for elective amputation. He had many new obstacles to overcome, both physical and mental.

“It was tough for me to deal with my identity. I wasn’t serving in the military anymore and that is still tough to deal with. I had to relearn everything on my other hand. I thought I wasn’t going to be fit enough after the injury to do athletics. Moving forward has been difficult because it is closing the door to another life and opening a new one. “

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Daniel Crane competes as part of Team USA at the Invictus Games in London last September.

Despite the circumstances, Daniel hasn’t looked back or slowed down. He competed as part of the Air Force Team for Invictus and Warrior Games — posing a formidable threat to his sister services. In 2014, he was honored to participate, at the request of Prince Harry, in an archery demonstration of those athletes using mouth tabs rather than their arms, and he was awarded the Inspiration Award by the Prince himself.

Daniel takes his cue from his injured brothers and sisters as well.

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Crane being awesome at his CrossFit gym…he hopes to pay it forward as a coach, thanks in part to Team R4V.

“When I won the Inspiration Award…I learned that sportsmanship can inspire just by going out there and competing. I realized the magnitude of what I was doing — no excuses, just go out and be awesome.

“[Sport] gets me out there and around other wounded warriors. My story has helped and encouraged others–telling others has inspired them to heal as well. In general [with other wounded warriors], we work together to win, but we also help each other move forward in life.”

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Crane gets used to his prosthetic while putting the hurt on some kettleballs.

Daniel is also an avid CrossFitter and, thanks to Team R4V, Daniel received his CrossFit Instructor Certification last year–education he is excited to use.

“Through my CrossFit certification, [Team R4V has] helped catapult me into the coaching world to help other wounded warriors through adaptive CrossFit.”

On October 25, 2015, Daniel will be joining the TEAM at the 40th Marine Corps Marathon, and we couldn’t be more excited to see him race alongside his fellow athletes! His infectious enthusiasm and charisma make 26.2 miles seem like a drop in the bucket!

THANK YOU, Daniel, for your great sense of humor, for always looking forward, and for inspiring and mentoring your brothers and sisters! Best of luck to you at 26.2!

To join Daniel and Team R4V at MCM, or for more information, click here!

Categories: R4V Blog Roll, R4V Sponsored Veterans | Leave a comment

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