When the connection is made between PTSD and an effective therapy it can make all the difference in the world. One promising therapy for our active military members and veterans comes in the form of two wheels.
The therapeutic value in motorcycling has long since been known but PTSD sufferers with the unique value in adventure motorcycling is Tom Larson's mission.
Tom had a light bulb moment when he himself was being treated for trauma that happened in his own life. He's not military and never has been but he learnt about how veterans were affected by PTSD. When Tom saw the therapeutic effect that a PTSD dog had on a military veteran with PTSD he realised that he sought similar refuge in his adventure motorcycle riding and how well it enabled extremely vital and personal decompression.
Tom and his wife Dana were already involved in projects and charities that give back to communities including Healing Waters International and yet still dug deep to find the time, energy and resources to set up The Motorcycle Relief Project.
Incorporated in December 2014 and now a fully functioning and extremely busy 501C3 this unique non-profit organization is run with 95% individual donations. This will be their first full season and things are going wonderfully. If the testimonials are anything to go by, already the healing process of many has been given a much need lift.
"Our mission is to honor and encourage veterans while providing them with opportunities to decompress, get unstuck and connect with other veterans." Says Tom Larson, Founder and Executive Director of MRP.
His Program Director is licensed counselor and fellow adventure motorcyclist Jim Maynard as well as the help of a team of wonderful volunteers. The latest addition to the team is Lexy Wagnild, a Veteran of over eight years in the Army as an AH-64D Apache Helicopter Pilot with combat experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Lexy has come onboard as the Operations Manager for MRP, overseeing the planning, coordinating and logistics functions of the group. As a success coach, she will be both riding and performing workshop exercises on the upcoming Women's ride in May.
One might ask what's so special about adventure motorcycle riding that it can actually help PTSD sufferers? For anyone who adventure rides the connection and recreational therapeutic qualities are obvious. Alas, interestingly many veterans never get the opportunity to explore the possibility. Either they have never heard of such a program or they might ride on-road but never considered they could actually ride adventure style motorcycles off road. This program is specifically designed to afford the opportunity for veterans with PTSD and other invisible injuries to try it. For anyone who has at least one year's riding experience on or off road it's a chance to experience the wonderful mix of nature and wildlife, spectacular countryside and quaint, interesting places, on tarmac twisty roads, dirt roads and trails for 5 days with a small group.
Indeed a good recipe to help decompression, enjoy fellow veteran camaraderie and explore techniques for relaxing and overcoming obstacles on personal paths as well as picking up a few pointers to overcome obstacles and find your balance in a trails riding demonstration and workshop.
Recent trip participant Jeromy is an avid supporter of this organisation. Here are some photos of him followed by his synopsis and background in his own words about what the trip meant to him:-
I was the last one to arrive even though I thought we would be early. A little apprehensive not knowing what to expect it was similar to a middle school dance and I felt like a wall flower. Introductions were made and conversations were had but since it was the beginning everything was very superficial small talkish. "War stories" seemed to be the common denominator in conversations as well as riding stories and history of riding. Never judge a book by it's cover!
I am not a fan of group riding and was again, a little apprehensive. Being a rider coach and very safety minded, this idea of riding with a bunch of dudes with PTSD scared me. I know Tom mentioned to all that we had to stay between the lead and sweep riders but a lot can be done between those two guys and experience levels of all the riders was truly in question...especially on bikes they were not familiar with. I had my own as did 2 other participants so I tended to use that as my security blanket. (more to come on the group riding later)
Day two thru whenever......
As the week went on we got into more dirt and less pavement and the dirt got progressively more difficult. The riding was awesome! I have ridden dirt bikes since I was 4 and street since I was 15. I got into adventure bikes about 11 years ago and was hooked. I guess where I am going with this is that I have always had and used motorcycling as my escape from reality. Riding always has been and always will be my "happy place".
The sessions we conducted every night were very beneficial in teaching me new ways or reinforcing old ways that I have dealt with life and the problems I face on a daily basis. The group gelled very well in a very short time when participants realized and accepted this was a "judgement free" zone. Some very deep parts of people's lives were shared very quickly when you look at how group dynamics should work.
Some realizations that hit me while we were out and during some sessions at night.....Adventure riding is much like life. We (I) put ourselves into seemingly impossible situations and then have to find a (productive) way out. What I realized this week, was that I am not alone and I can ask for help to get out of these situations, whether it is riding or life problems, someone is usually there to help as long as I am willing to reach out.
On the last day as we were headed "back to the barn", I was riding in the rear of the pack and noticed that the group had really tightened up its formation since day one. We were all evenly spaced and taking up less room on the road than we were 5 days prior. There was an unspoken trust that had developed over the week that was amazing to watch. After only one week of sharing time and life with these guys, I trusted them more than (some) people I have known my entire life. We built not just camaraderie, but family. People I would not normally have associated with for one reason or another, were now my brothers. I now have another support mechanism to reach out to when things get tough. I know I could count on these guys on any given day to be there for help...for me and for each other."
The rides take place over 5 days and are in various locations in Colorado, California, Arizona and Utah so far. See their calendar for previous rides and more photos as well as upcoming dates. MRP are always looking for veterans who would benefit from the rides and that includes currently serving military members with PTSD. Minimum one years experience road riding but no dirt riding experience is necessary.
Please click here to fill out MRP's application form. They still have slots waiting to be filled and don't worry, they will outfit you with the right motorcycle from their fleet many of which have been donated by individuals who support the cause.
PTSD in veterans totals more than a quarter of a million and the number continues to rise. Luckily this condition is treatable and with continued support we can help give these incredible men and women the tools they need to manage symptoms and recover.
Please help MRP help veterans with PTSD take meaningful steps towards recovery and donate, volunteer, follow and share on facebook, discuss, blog, praise, sing, tweet, tag or just learn more about the Motorcycle Relief Project here at motorelief.org. Let's give these veterans the opportunity to try a different path to recovery and add some valuable tools to thier 'tool box' for living.