According to the 2014 Census, More than 3.8 million of the 19.3 million veterans in the US are coping with a service-connected disability. Due to the improvements in battlefield medical treatment, they return alive, yet not whole. Upon separation from the military, many veterans feel disconnected and alone, experiencing a loss of purpose, identity, and community as they try to reestablish themselves in their civilian communities.
Our programs permanently impact lives by helping members of all military branches with disabilities tackle personal challenges. Mountains serve as both metaphor and training ground for stretching goals, building world-class teams, innovating through adversity and stepping up to lead and serve others. Through the No Barriers Warriors experience, we provide veterans with camaraderie and support systems they can depend on.
To do things in life that are self-benefitting may seem unimportant to those of us who are used to serving others. Especially when the thing you need to do causes you fear of misunderstanding…maybe even judgment. Making the decision to seek help to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not an easy one. All my life I managed to deal with my innermost issues by myself, without utilizing outside, professional help. Starting now, after so many experiences, was like admitting I could no longer manage myself. However, now I know that’s not the way I should view it. Seeking help has nothing to do with one’s inability to admit defeat or surrender. It has to do with going beyond personal understanding of ourselves and stepping out to take a look from the outside in. One of the best ways to do this is through people who have dedicated their lives to the study of human behavior and how what happens in our lives can impact our way of thinking.
In seeking help, I was also able to look at what others were doing to get ahead. This is when I came across a documentary that showcased the work of No Barriers Warriors, formerly Soldiers to Summits, and saw hope in the interviews of those participants and how their lives were changed.
After participating in the Peruvian expedition in 2013, I too acquired some of the same tools to “get ahead” as those previous participants, and my life was changed for the good. Out of the blue I received an email from a local TV station asking me to share my story on a morning news broadcast. I gained a lot of confidence as a participant of a No Barriers Warriors expedition, and I felt that I now belonged to a team dedicated to helping others find that same hope I had found. But, I could have never have imagined how far this experience would go in keeping me inspired and leading me to encourage others to go beyond themselves and take charge in their own lives.
Back to the TV interview. I was nervous and unsure of how to respond to the questions from the interviewer. I rehearsed possible questions and answers but was still not sure of what to expect. The time for the interview arrived, and I was accompanied by my wife for support, the reporter and the camera technician. After a few questions, the powerful light and camera on my face combined with the understanding that this could help someone else find No Barriers, my nerves calmed, and I started to have fun. The reporter was very nice and very easy on me with the line of questioning. In the end, the whole experience was wonderful and now my hope is that others will see the interview and be inspired to pursue new ways of healing.
The day after the interview aired, I went to the VA hospital for an appointment and several people stopped me and asked about No Barriers and my experiences in Peru. Others asked me for my contact information to perhaps sit and talk about issues. But, the best part was that I not only belong to the team of No Barriers Warriors, but I also belong in my community. I can be an example to others to never give up, even when what you do not understand gets in the way of living the life you want. All you have to do to get ahead is take a step forward, seek out all possibilities and have the hope that by embracing adversity, life propels us forward toward the future we all desire.
-Pedro, Warriors Mentor and Participant
During my time in the U.S. Army as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician (military bomb squad), I endured a great many hardships. From intense military training to the rigors of deployments in some of the most dangerous places on Earth; and I thought I knew what tough was. Until December 8th, 2011 when I stepped on and detonated an IED. The blast broke every bone in my face, cracked my skull, took 70% of my hearing, crushed my sinuses taking my smell, and destroyed my eyes, plunging me into darkness forever.
I was 40 pounds overweight and have herniated discs which cause chronic back pain. Being in pain all the time caused my morale to go down and it became harder to dig out of a funk. Mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress added to that funk and pushed me down even further. I finally hit bottom. I was unable to enjoy life or connect with anyone and felt completely alone. My wife and I seemed to argue all the time and were both worried our marriage was coming to an end. I felt I wasn’t a good husband, and when I realized all the arguing was negatively affecting my children, I sunk to a whole new low.
At this point I had one of two options: change or death. And that’s where it stood for several months. I was too afraid to decide until December 9th, 2015, when I chose change. I chose life!
It hasn’t all been roses since making that choice. I wasn’t sure where to start. I had been following a program called No Barriers Warriors, but I’d always had an excuse to not apply. This year was going to be different. When I received the phone call that I had been selected, it felt like someone had thrown me a life raft. There was light, there was purpose, but most of all there was hope.
Immediately I recognized something different about No Barriers Warriors. They didn’t treat me as a participant, but more like an old friend coming home. I was excited and motivated to keep moving forward. I was also nervous about having no control during this experience. I kept reminding myself of the change I wanted. I was selected for the Wind River Range Warriors to Summits 2016 team, but due to circumstances out of anyone’s control, the expedition was moved to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. When I found out about the location change, I wanted to quit. I had no desire to be in the desert again! I was afraid!
My wife told me “quitting was not an option,” and this became the first of many fears I conquered through my Warriors to Summits experience. The Gila Wilderness was a truly transformative experience for me and became a beacon of light that helped me climb out of a deep dark hole. As each day went by, that light became stronger. I found myself laughing, smiling, and for the first time since leaving the Army, connecting with other people. I met other veterans like me, just trying to figure out how to start a new chapter of their lives. It was inspirational to listen to their stories, and helpful to learn about the tools they use to move forward in life.
– Eric, 2016 Warriors to Summits Participant
It wasn’t more than two years ago that I was going everywhere with my service dog “Mush” getting looks from everyone from “Aw, what a cute puppy!,” to “What the h*** does she need a service dog for? Maybe she is training the dog.”
One day I got an email from a complete stranger asking me if I wanted to climb a mountain, and I replied maybe 10 times before I got a response saying he had nothing to do with the board but he will put in a good word. Then I got an application and it took me three months to fill out what would be the start of my life not depending on Mush and not being a full-time patient…me starting to be myself again.
The application was to climb a mountain, Cotopaxi in the Andes, with No Barriers Warriors. It is 19,300 ft., and it was all I could think about once I turned in my application. As soon as they called me and said I was accepted, I ran around my house like a little kid drinking too much pop. It was the first time in a long time I was truly happy for something, that was, at the time, still just an image in my mind.
Since I was injured I was always getting down on myself for not feeling better — for having a headache, for being depressed. But, then I went on the first climb with the other vets out in Colorado and saw that there was no competition, no need to get down on myself. I was able to let a little of it go; see how relaxing all of it was; experience how healthy the outdoors was for me; and learn how much I craved it. Soon, I didn’t need Mush as much anymore, and I found myself being able to laugh and joke with other people.
On one of the days leading up to the summit climb in Ecuador, Charley Mace, one of our guides, made me leader for the day which was very scary for me because I couldn’t see myself in that role since I retired from the Army. I learned that I can be a leader, and people can respect me even though I have a lot of hang-ups about my head injury.
In the nine months I spent training and climbing, I learned more about myself than I had in my four years of doctors’ office and psych appointments. I learned a lot from friends who had struggles like mine and the friends who were different from mine. I craved the conversations with the No Barriers Warriors guides and their stories of the travels they had, which lit a fire in me and propelled me into the outdoor world to which I now know I am destined to belong.
– Margaux, Participant and Mentor