HOST INTRO: For returning veterans, there can be plenty of challenges. Anxiety and depression can be common. And it can be difficult to adapt to new environments. Now, one organization is using physical challenges to help veterans and civilians alike cope with stress and find community. Max Hauptman has more.
HAUPTMAN 1: It’s a gray, rainy day in Jersey City. But hundreds of people are gathered here, with the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan in the distance, preparing to run an urban obstacle course.
Ray Garcia has a shaved head. Jimmy Spiegel is powerfully built. And he has one prosthetic leg. Both men are at the starting line, getting ready to run.
(Ambi of race beginning for 0:08, fade under for narration.)
HAUPTMAN 2: They’re off and running. Garcia and Spiegel climb over rope ladders and carry heavy sandbags…
(Fade up Ambi of Garcia and Spiegel carrying sandbags, people cheering them on 0:05)
HAUPTMAN 3: They swing across a series of metal still rings…
(Fade up ambi of Garcia and Spiegel swinging from the rings 0:5 )
HAUPTMAN 4: For Garcia and Spiegel, this race is about more than just climbing rope ladders or running over balance beams. They’re here to support New York are veterans. They’re part of a group called Team RWB. It’s designed to enrich the lives of veterans through physical challenges. Hershey Freitas is another member of the group. She’s handing out water, energy bars, and bananas on the sidelines.
FREITAS 1: We try to get the veterans off the couch and integrate them back into the community. We do everything from running, to cycling, to triathlons. Social events, bowling, rock climbing, just hiking. Anything that you can think of. (0:21)
HAUPTMAN 2: Freitas was in the Air Force, and today she’s one of about 20 Team RWB members competing and helping out. And events like the one today are a big part of the reason why she got involved in the group three years ago. Freitas says that for veterans and other Team RWB members, an important part reintegrating into the civilian world is overcoming tough challenges.
FREITAS 2: Emotionally and physically challenging? Yeah, it’s amazing. I cannot stress that enough. The glory that you get from seeing your friends achieve something that they thought they’d never be able to do. (0:16)
HAUPTMAN 3: As Freitas says, trying to challenge yourself can be critical in re-establishing routines for returning veterans, even years after they transition to civilian life.
FREITAS 3: You know, you have—it’s so hard to come from being deployed into the regular life, and people don’t understand you. Well, this is the way. So yeah, it helps a lot. (0:12)
HAUPTMAN 3: Team RWB was founded in 2010 by Mike Erwin, an Army Captain. Today, there are chapters all across the country, including six in the New York area. Each chapter is different, but there is one thing they all emphasize. Group physical activities, and the social bonding that comes with them.
Exercise isn’t a cure. But for people with a stress disorder, anxiety or depression, it can help. That’s especially true for veterans coming from a culture that placed a strong emphasis on fitness. An obstacle course like the one in Jersey City is a perfect chance to bond with each other. Sandy Chiriboga (Cheer-Eh-Bow-Guh) is a Team RWB chapter president in northern New Jersey.
CHIRIBOGA 1: You have a group that is running, and maybe you want to start running but you don’t know where to start or you don’t have any friends that want to run or do anything active. But you know that there’s a group of people that on Wednesdays are going to go and kickbox, and you want to try and kickbox. (0:17)
HAUPTMAN 4: Along with exercise, there is a social aspect that Chiriboga says is also important. It’s not just exercise, it’s doing it with a group of people and establishing a support system.
CHIRIBOGA 2: You’re making connections. So now you’re coming out, you’re going to be active, you’re going to move. Now you’re also going to meet a few people that you didn’t know before. You actually might make some friends. (0:11)
LIGHTFOOT 1: I think that’s a perfect example of the men and women coming back and you want to give back, and what are you going to do? (0:07)
HAUPTMAN 6: Leslie Lightfoot is a clinical psychologist who works with returning veterans. She agrees that tough physical challenges can have a positive psychological impact on people who are used to pushing themselves. It’s a way to keep contributing.
LIGHTFOOT 2: That’s one thing about the military, and I can only speak from the medical piece of it, but you never feel like you’ve done enough. (0:09)
HAUPTMAN 6: Back at the obstacle course, Ray Garcia and Jimmy Spiegel are nearing the finish line. The rain has started to pick up, and their faces are red with exhaustion. But there’s one last event–a rope climb.
First up is Garcia, his wet sneakers squeaking on the rope…
(Fade up squeaky sneakers ambi)
And then Spiegel.
(“Don’t quit on me!” Ambi.)
HAUPTMAN 7: They cross the finish line with a crowd cheering them on.
So how does it feel finishing?
SPIEGEL 1: Awesome! It feels great, we hit every obstacle, we finished under an hour, that’s about all you can ask for.
HAUPTMAN 8: With his prosthetic leg, Spiegel is considered an adaptive athlete–an athlete who has overcome a permanent physical or mental injury. He’s been training for three years, and he uses these events to show veterans and other team RWB members that the loss of a limb doesn’t have to be a setback.
SPIEGEL 2: For me, RWB got me back into fitness. I was seventy pounds heavier before they took me in and started getting me training again and what not. You know, I’m trying to get more adaptive people out there to go to these events and show people that they can do it. (0:14)
HAUPTMAN 8: There is no single cure for PTSD, anxiety, or depression. And there’s no single way to help veterans reintegrate into the civilian world. But for the members of Team RWB, getting off the couch is a helpful first step. Max Hauptman, Columbia Radio News.