Posted on September 17, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

The U.S. military has launched several initiatives to stem the skyrocketing number of suicides by soldiers and veterans, and to combat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here’s my suggestion: The Army should expand and build upon Ride 2 Recovery’s model.

Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit group, has come up with a formula to help so-called “wounded warriors,” injured veterans who are not only recovering from physical injuries, but dealing with mental challenges. Many of these soldiers sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to losing limbs in bomb blasts. Many of these veterans are now struggling with PTSD.

Ride  2 Recovery using long-distance cycling as an activity to help injured soldiers heal, physically and emotionally. The wounded men and women get into shape by training for and participating in 300-mile bike rides. Even multiple amputees can ride, using specially adapted bikes or hand cycles. The exercise gives them a rush of endorphins, which lifts their mood.

In the process, vets get a support group for the difficult transition to civilian life. For the desperate who are thinking about committing suicide, Ride 2 Recovery gives them the boost they need to go forward, according to one of the vets in the program.  It helps others deal with their depression and anxiety.

Some Wounded Warrior transition programs at domestic military bases and Veterans’ Administration hospitals send veterans to  Ride  2 Recovery as part of their rehabilitation.

The group on Sunday completed its first ride in the Northeast, which ended in Fort Lee, N.J. The Record wrote about that Minuteman Challenge ride, which 200 vets participated in.

Vets work as a team during these rides — there are seven a year — and bond.

Nathan Green, a 35-year-old from Burke, Va., is a former U.S. Air Force major who was medically discharged. He took part in the most recent Ride 2 Recovery ride.

Burke received a brain injury in 2008 in Iraq during a rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“A rocket landed about 30 feet away from me, it threw me to the ground,” Burke said. “It knocked me unconscious. I landed five to 10 feet away. It threw me headfirst into the ground … I just remember waking up on the ground.”

Burke was diagnosed with a TBI, but he took that in stride.

“Both my eardrums were blown out by the blast,” he said. “Like a lot of people, I got up and I had all my fingers. I had all my toes. And I walked away because I kind of shook it off. And I thought I’m OK. I’ve got all my four limbs. It’s going to be OK. ”

Burke was sent back to the states, where he demonstrated the classic symptoms of a concussion and PTSD. He would get multiple migraine headaches on a daily basis, vertigo and had trouble concentrating. His hospital therapist recommended that Burke join Ride 2 Recovery.

He’s done a half dozen of the rides now, and loves the camaraderie and support of the group of fellow vets.

“We look at this like our second family,” Burke said. “We’re like one big family.”
He keeps in touch with fellow cyclists on Facebook and through email.

“I now have 200 or more best friends across the country I know that I can always use,” Burke said. “If I’m coming into town, I can say, ‘Hey, I’m coming into town.’ I always have a bed to crash on. I always have a meal waiting for me. I do the same for them.”

“When someone posts something, ‘Hey I got this job,’ or ‘I got this degree,’ or ‘I’m going back to school,’ it’s a stream-roll effect of support, a steamroll effect of enthusiasm,” he added. “It’s a steamroll effect of just good. It makes you feel good when everyone else does good.”
The Ride 2 Recovery vets really act as a team. Burke pointed out that the recumbent bikes, often used by amputees, have a “push bar” on the back. That’s so other cyclists can help the recumbent cyclists keep up with everyone else.
 “A lot of times people help push to keep the speed up,” he said. “That’s the teamwork thing. It helps keep the pace up. It’s a teamwork activity. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about teamwork.”
“When someone starts to fall, when someone starts to get tired, we all pull each other up, because we’re all part of a team,” Burke said. “We never leave someone behind. We never leave someone fall flat. We always get there at the finish together. That also goes for the regular bikes. You’ll notice if someone’s fallen behind, someone will put a gentle hand on their back and push them up a hill.”
Burke is always sore after a ride. But that doesn’t stop him from coming back.
“You know every single time you’re going to be in pain,” he said. “You know every single time you’re going to hurt. But still something makes you come back and do it again. It’s the camaraderie. It’s the teamwork. It’s the seeing friends part (of it). You know you’re in for a challenge together and you just keep going back, even though you know you’re in for a tough five days”
He continued, “My wife sometimes doesn’t understand. She says, ‘You keep doing this, and you come home and you’re miserable for two days, because you’re all limping around, sore and stuff.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I know, they’ve got me, what can I say.’”



About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447