How No Barriers Warriors Gave Me The Confidence to Dream Big

No Barriers Warriors Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains Sponsored by Kronos August 23-29 2015I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, as an adventurous tomboy who preferred playing tackle football to hosting a tea party.

In high school, I earned 12 varsity letters playing volleyball, basketball and softball. I continued to be extremely active when I was in the Army, not just for my job but in my “relaxation” time, too. I started competing in triathlons, cycling, snowboarding, trail running, swimming, hiking and camping. Exercise and the outdoors were an important part of my identity.

I served in the Army as an OH-58 D “Kiowa Warrior” pilot and commissioned officer. I injured my lower back as a result of improper seating ergonomics and the vibrations of the aircraft. When my back injury was not easily treated, I tried to remain active through all the back surgeries but I kept worsening my condition.

Eventually, I gave up trying to have the active lifestyle I thrived on. I gained weight and lost confidence that I would ever be insanely active again. When I first heard about No Barriers, I assumed it would be like all the other veteran’s charities wanting to give me a transformative outdoor experience: I would have a challenging few days reaching a mountain peak but wouldn’t leave with any lasting lifestyle or attitude changes.

I was drawn to No Barriers because they promised to encourage me in any future endeavor I wanted to tackle. The biggest draw, though, was that I wanted to determine if I could be adventurous and active without hurting myself further.

No Barriers Warriors Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains Sponsored by Kronos August 23-29 2015In August, I went with No Barriers Warriors to the Catskill Mountains in New York for a rock climbing and hiking expedition in the Shawangunk Mountains. As soon as I met my fellow veterans, I felt that familiar warmth of military camaraderie. None of us had ever met but we instantly connected.

Since I left the Army in 2007, I have most missed the camaraderie of the military — the similar experiences, sense of purpose, sense of humor and desire to serve that we all share. During our campfire antics throughout the trip, I felt a sense of belonging that I haven’t felt in the outside world.

That connection recharged me and I returned home feeling energized, optimistic, and excited about the future. On our trip, we went rock climbing for two days and then hiked a strenuous seven miles over three mountain peaks. The rock climbing was a fun personal challenge and it taught me that I need to start taking yoga. I was nervous about the long hike because I wasn’t sure I could finish it. I was afraid I would hurt my back further or fail. The hike took us all day and was difficult.

The last half of the hike we were scrambling up and down big, steep boulders. I worked my legs until I could barely stand. I jumped and hiked and climbed and stretched beyond my self-imposed ability. When my group reached the campground, the rest of the team was waiting at the end to congratulate us. I felt the exhilaration of completing a long ruck march together as a unit.

No Barriers Warriors Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains Sponsored by Kronos August 23-29 2015The greatest satisfaction, though, was knowing that I could push myself as hard as ever without hurting myself. I might not be the fastest or the best, but I am capable of much more than I thought.

Upon my return home, I felt compelled to get active again. I started running, something I haven’t tried in five years. I started practicing yoga because rock climbing showed me how inflexible I am. I even started lifting weights again because it gives me a reason to preen in mirrors. I swim; I play basketball; I even skateboard.

No Barriers gave me back the confidence to dream big about my physical goals: Maybe there is an Ironman in my future.