NY American Legion honors wounded veterans at Patriot Highlander Challenge

 
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NY American Legion honors wounded veterans at Patriot Highlander Challenge

Two years ago I took part in the Patriot Highlander Challenge in Cobleskill, NY, and this year I was lucky enough to attend again.  With a goal of providing direct support through monetary donations to the Wounded Veteran community, the Patriot Highlander Challenge invites competitors to enjoy a 3 or 6 mile obstacle course located in hilly, up-state New York.  And while I again finished it, I still have some bruises to remember the weekend by.

Although the race wasn't scheduled to start until 8 a.m., I arrived two hours early to meet up with Col. Kirk Holmes, a fellow graduate of The Citadel, and the host for the event.  His counterpart in the initiative is American Legion Department of New York Commander Gary Schacher.

Each year the Patriot Highlander Crew picks one veteran to be the honored guest, and this year it was Marine Sergeant Eddie Ryan.  From his website:

On April 13, 2005, on his third tour, Eddie was shot twice in his head, once in his lower jaw and once above his eye. Eddie was severely wounded and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Now, because prayer is going strong for our American hero, Eddie is recovering and doing well....

The Marine Corps flew the family out to Germany, fearing that Eddie would pass, or that he wouldn't remember his family.  Onbviously he lived through his injries, and:

As for him not remembering us, God answered our prayers, that was definitely our main prayer after asking God for his life. Eddie has full memory and knows the person of everyone who comes to visit him that he knew before. We talk about his childhood and he remembers it all, he has a sense of humor and his sister Felicia makes him laugh all the time. His speech is limited, at this point but he is starting to say complete sentences and initiating thoughts. 

In between various heats (they ran groups of runners roughly every hour) Gary and Kirk held a ceremony where all those present got to see Eddie become a Paid Up For Life Member of The American Legion, sponsored by the Department of New York.

(That is Eddie's father with the microphone.)

"Eddie Ryan is a true Marine and Patriot" said Commander Schacher after presenting the PUFL.  "He has endured a life changing injury and wants nothing more than to lace his boots up and be back in the Corps. He and his family are fine Americans and are so grateful for the support that they receive."

Schacher also discussed how the Patriot Highlander Games is an important thing for the Department of New York to participate in.

"It is important for veterans to be involved and participate in programs like the Patriot Highlander because it instills the veterans for veterans attitude, builds the camaraderie amongst veterans, shows veterans in the local community that we care and helps build the patriotic spirit .  And it is important for The American Legion to engage in activities like the Patriot Highlander for the reasons above but on the organization Level.... Our organization is veterans for veterans and by The American Legion being involved, it has us showing our community and youth that veterans, old and young, are active and part of the community and how we support each other.”

When I ran the event a few years ago I did so with a team of veterans that were sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Foundation, and since I had such a great time again asked if I could rejoin them.  Luckily for me they were happy to do so.

The Adaptive Sports Foundation (ASF) is a non-profit organization that provides profound and life changing experiences for children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses through outdoor physical activity, education, support and community.

I talked to Pam Greene, the program director for ASF about why events like this are important for veterans adjusting to their new normal.

There are a few reasons why it is good for the veterans to get out and participate in events like the Patriot Highlander. First, this event requires teamwork for everyone to complete the course. This reflects back to their military skills and the mindset of never leaving a teammate behind, so if a veteran is feeling like they can’t do things anymore, this draws on strengths that they have.  Second, so many of the veterans that we work with have struggled with getting active after their injury(ies). Some have weight issues that they are dealing with as well. The Patriot Highlander is an event that makes working out fun. In addition, many of the veterans that I see don’t get out and do community events, they tend to stay at home and only interact with a few people. This event shows them that the community supports them and that they can feel comfortable out in the world with the general population.

The race itself consists of about a dozen obstacles, many of which involve copious amounts of mud.  Above you see our team crawling under the faux bamboo wire, which was followed by huge mud pits and slippery hills.

When not in the mud, the challenges usually involved heights, from going over walls, to climbing ropes to traversing beams up in the air....

Hundreds of people showed up to both participate and to cheer on others.   This sort of community involvement is crucial Pam believes.

I don’t think the general population realizes how many veterans feel that they are not accepted or understood by their community. I am always saddened when a Warrior says to me that they don’t do things in their home town because they don’t feel that people understand them. By having a large group of local people participating and obviously supporting the veterans, it shows them how much support is out there. 

Gary agreed.

This event is put on by ALL volunteers, both local and abroad, with a military and non military background, that enjoy being there.  It’s not a job, it’s FUN.  And having the local community show up in the numbers they did really helps us to bridge that gap that many veterans feel between themselves and civilians.

For native New Englander Stacey Barton it was an opportunity to do the course again.  

It’s been a tough year for me.  But I was determined to be able to participate in it again.  It boosted my spirits with the other veterans who all helped us complete the challenge. Yes it was a challenge but with everyone helping everyone else it was possible that we all finished it. Together!

Photos from Kyle Adams Photography.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.