“Let me tell you a story about veterans,” she said.
“I really missed my brother—I mean the one I knew before he went to war. He loved life, he smiled, he laughed, he enjoyed things, simple things, you know? He was a positive kind of guy, always looking ahead, figuring out how to solve problems. I can’t tell you the number of times he brought me back down to earth, got me focused on what was right, and good, and how and why things would work out.
“That person, that brother didn’t come home when his tour was up. The physical him showed up intact—he never got injured—but he definitely lost something over there, something just as important as an arm or a leg. I mean it was like he’d somehow lost “him,” you know, like his “self,” who he was…before.
“Oh he was back home, alright, but it was like he’d gone AWOL or was missing in action. I didn’t know the man who’d returned—he looked like my brother, but it wasn’t him. My real brother, the one who could be happy? He didn’t come back for another five years.
“And when he did, it was—I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true—it was on a bike! He showed up at my place on a bicycle one day. I didn’t know he even had one anymore; he hadn’t ridden a bike since he was, what, maybe 15? That morning was the first time in five years I saw him smiling. That was when I knew he was finally back home. Now, it took a lot more than that for him to heal, to retrieve the self that had gone missing over there—and it’s still going on. But without the bike and cycling, I’m sure he’d still be lost.
“We go out riding together every week or so. It’s like we were kids again.”
Her voice caught and her eyes welled with tears but sparkled with joy. She smiled. “I…I’ve got my little brother back!”
A few weeks ago, a mutual friend introduced me to John Wordin, who has started a new non-profit, No Vet Alone. John is a former professional cyclist who founded Project Hero and its nationally recognized programs including Ride to Recovery events. The results of those efforts have been impressive:
- More than 10,000 veterans and first responders helped since 2008.
- Up to 65 per cent success in reducing or eliminating prescription drug dependence.
- Greater injury recovery rates.
- Improved sleep habits and overall improvement in daily life functions.
The positive connection between physical exercise like cycling and physical and mental recovery is being documented every day. John’s programs and others like it are providing important data and insights—while bringing tangible benefit to veterans.
No Vet Alone is a natural extension of John Wordin’s previous efforts. He has now partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch the No Vet Alone Initiative. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I’s ending, the Department of Veterans Affairs has declared November 9: National No Vet Alone Day. The #NoVetAlone initiative will challenge Americans and communities across the country to engage in three days of activities that honor and support those who have served and sacrificed. It will raise awareness for suicide prevention, and share the journeys of those undergoing mental and physical rehabilitation.
November 9th will also mark No Vet Alone’s nation-wide, year-round, peer-to-peer network for service members, veterans and first responders. This network will help provide resources and tools, while creating communities, to help our Nation’s heroes improve resilience. A national radio and TV promotional campaign will encourage veterans to GET CONNECTED through NoVetAlone.org and GET INVOLVED via a national radio and TV promotional campaign.
Around 15,000 veterans live on the Olympic Peninsula; close to two-thirds reside in Clallam County. Of Sequim’s population nearly 10 per cent are veterans. On average across the U.S. 20 veterans a day commit suicide, with an incalculable number on the verge, despairing of any help in ending their physical and mental anguish.
In 2019, the Olympic Peninsula Bicycle Alliance (OPBA) will be looking at how to connect more of the region’s veterans with cycling, hoping to replicate, even in a small way, the kind of results John Wordin has achieved with his programs and initiatives.
Next month, however, one group of area cyclists plans to take a first small step in that direction. The Sunday Riders, who meet Sunday mornings at 9:30 for a relaxed, informal group ride starting at the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge, are extending an invitation to all veterans to join them on Sunday, November 11th, Veterans Day.
As a veteran myself and one of the cyclists who rides with that group I’d like to extend a personal invitation to area veterans to join us—either for the ride itself or for the after-ride gathering at Rainshadow Café around 11:30. It will be an occasion not only to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but to honor the service and sacrifice of all veterans. We see it as our first step in our getting connected and getting involved—to do what we can through cycling to ensure that in Sequim, in Clallam County, and on the Olympic Peninsula, there is “No Vet Alone.”