Determination.

Perseverance.

Gratitude.

Passion.

Love.

These traits have been ingrained in me from an early age. I have my parents, Holly and Kevin, to thank for instilling the importance of these traits. They taught me how to love, live, and be a good person. My entire family has taught me how to overcome adversity and obstacles. They taught me to be a strong woman and leader, and fight for what I believe in. They showed me in my young age how the Army Values and living with integrity would always ensure success. They love me and support me in whatever I do. Knowing this empowering feeling has enabled me to share it and instill it in others.

I grew up a military brat and embraced a life of moving, traveling, and meeting new faces. I grew up all over the states and Europe. I’ve met many inspirational people along the way. I have always been very active and involved. I played sports from the age of 8 on through college (Soccer will always be my favorite). I was part of many organizations in high school- President of National Honor Society, Valedictorian, Class President, German Club, Captain of my Soccer and Volleyball Teams.  I was always hungry for more. In college, I ventured away from the Army life for the first time. I had a lot of fun my freshman year but felt there was a void. Something was missing. Many of my friends were in ROTC and convinced me to join in on some PT sessions with our Battalion Commander. The sense of purpose and camaraderie I saw in this group of individuals hooked me immediately. Could I possibly join the Army and serve as an Officer and….enjoy it? The answer was a resounding YES. Army ROTC became my new platform for inspiration and began teaching me how to lead. I embraced being a member of the team. I excelled in our program and through my biology/Pre-med program. I served as the S3 and Cadet Battalion Commander while in my Senior Year of ROTC and reignited my passion for leading from the front.  I stayed fit and found fun in running, hiking, and doing adventure races. In 2009 I commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the United States Army. I have served as a platoon leader in a medical company, an executive officer closing bases in Iraq, and an operations officer in a Medical Center. I am currently a Commander in a Hospital at Fort Benning. This job opened the doors for me to become a full-time Healthcare Administrator for the Army. I will earn my MHA/MBA from Baylor University beginning in Summer of 2015. I also recently became a member of The American College of Healthcare Executives.

I have been in the Army for almost 6 years! It’s hard to believe. My passion and determination to change Army Medicine and our Healthcare System has grown immensely in these 6 years. So has my love for my Brothers and Sisters in arms. I respect our profession and love what we do more than ever before. I work with so many strong, inspiring individuals. I am grateful to work in such a profession that allows such growth and prosperity as individuals and as a team. I am honored to serve Veterans and their families as a healthcare administrator. I have also found a new sport in which to unleash my athleticism- triathlon. The sport of triathlon is an inspiring world of people who push their bodies to the outer limits. I have started doing half Ironmans and really enjoy getting out there and competing. The five qualities I hold near and dear to my heart are present here. My triathlon family is comprised of some of the smartest and amazing people I’ve ever met!  They exemplify strength, perseverance, and passion in all that they do.

I found Team RWB through a mentor/friend of mine, MAJ Jonathan Silk. “This would be perfect for you!” He said. And he was right. In a year’s time, we created a Chapter of over 300 people in Fort Benning/Columbus and I volunteered to take on the Social Director title. Our mission? To reach Veterans and connect them with the Community through physical and social activity. The Leaders I have worked with are phenomenal people. Their passion for Veterans is unsurpassed. We all seek the finer adventures in life. We understand that we can never stop improving and we strive to learn, grow, and love more every day. We are people who set goals and challenges for ourselves and we MEET those goals. We gain value in our lives with every Veteran we touch and every friend we make. Our team has grown significantly and we are strong. We all share a remarkable bond and it has truly changed my life for the better. It’s remarkable what a support crew can do for you. Wearing the eagle and running with the flag of our nation is a feeling of peace and pride I cannot describe – I can only show you. My wish is for everyone to experience the camaraderie and patriotism that is Team RWB. The group of red shirts with flags you see running by embodies the traits I emulate every day. A day without inspiration is a day wasted and our Eagles LIVE IT.

Life is and always will be far too beautiful to watch as a spectator. Don’t let it pass you by.

Last weekend Team RWB sponsored 8 Veteran athletes from across the nation, who competed in the Working Wounded Games in Alexandra, VA.  The games are a CrossFit styled event designed to level the playing field for adaptive athletes. These team members exemplified the Eagle Ethos of Passion, People, Positivity, Commitment, Camaraderie, and Community. Read their stories below:

Mike Hernandez

Mike Hernandez. “I heard about Team RWB through a friend Nick Caris. He told me they where do amazing things with Vets.  At the time I had just came off of a downward spiral of suicidal thoughts, divorce, homeless,  obesity,  not being able to see my son, and drug and alcohol abuse. I started with completing the Spartan challenge with Blayne and was asked if I wanted to go to a camp, which changed my life. I went to the functional FITTNESS camp in Alabama with Irontribe and met a lot of vets that where once in my shoes.  To this day I have lost 70 lbs. and continue to do functional FITTNESS. I have also taken a leadership role as the outreach director of the Tampa chapter.  I am also the Firebase ops chief, and I am a fellow with the Mission Continues serving Team RWB.  Blayne has been an amazing mentor and friend.  He has saved my life mentally and physically.”

Max Conserva

Max Conserva. “Military service is not what ultimately brought me to Team RWB, rather it was a little bike and a semi-truck. When I was 8 years-old I was involved in a major truck vs. bicycle accident. Both the truck and I were stopped at the same intersection. The semi-truck, with it’s tall hood, didn’t see the small obstacle as I passed through the crosswalk directly in front. With a seemingly clear path, the truck initiated a right turn on a red light. For a sudden moment the truck and I occupied the same space. The over-sized grill slammed into my left shoulder, throwing me off of my bike. A second moment of contact approached as eighteen trailer tires lumbered forward. In an instant I had hooked my left arm over-top the bumper, pulling myself away from first set of tires, hanging on for life. Fortunately, before to long, some bystanders at the intersection who witnessed the accident ran out in front of the truck to force it to a stop. Finally stopped, with people gathered, the truck was ordered to reverse. The truck rolled back, leaving what remained laying on the asphalt in the center of the lane. With my bike still in my left had, I stood up, then fell back to the pavement. The rest of my life began. The accident had left me with a catastrophic injury to my right leg that has left it forever deformed and unstable. I spend most of my life avoiding most types of physical activity out of fear of failure, embarrassment and disbelief in what could be possible. A few years ago I found Crossfit and it changed my life. I came to San Francisco Crossfit as an individual with a tactically managed disability and came out the other side as, for the first time in my life, an athlete. There is now no activity I won’t try or challenge I won’t attempt. Crossfit was one of the catalysts that pushed me to address all aspects of my disability head-on. Ultimately converging into my current project: www.GoodLeg.org. I was first introduced to Team RWB by Theresa Larson through our joint involvement in Crossfit. She invited me to come down to San Diego to coach for a Team RWB Functional Fitness camp. I jumped at the opportunity and was rewarded with an amazing experience. I relish any chance to coach and train with other adaptive athletes. I see the Working Wounded Games as the ultimate expression of this. Participating will undoubtedly be a personal highlight in a year full of highlights.”

Evan Reichenthal

Evan Reichenthal enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2009. Served as an infantryman with 3rd Battalion 9th Marines. Deployed to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. Wounded by an IED in 2011 while conducting combat operations against the Taliban. Suffered right below knee amputation, right elbow fusion at 30 degrees, and severe damage to left leg, nerve damage throughout the three limbs. Spent 16 months at Walter Reed and 32 surgeries all together. He is currently a student at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He joined Team RWB after participating in the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, in May. Evan is now a dedicated Crossfit athlete for Team RWB.

Cogen Nelson

Cogen Nelson Sgt, Ret. USMC currently owns a CrossFit affiliate in Southern California; House of CrossFit in Carlsbad. He spent 8 years in the Marine Corps, where he did two deployments with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Kaneohe Bay, HI to Fallujah in 2008 and Haditha in 2006, respectively. He also served with 4th Force Reconnaissance out of Alameda, CA. During his prior deployments, Sgt Nelson sustained multiple injuries that include a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED explosion, gun shot wound to his left arm, and multiple other physical injuries. After combat deployments and seeking aid through Wounded Warrior Battalion, Sgt Nelson was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. That year prior, he found refuge and recovery via CrossFit; igniting a passion for challenge and overcoming fatigue and injuries that had previously held him back. He currently trains members and athletes in Carlsbad at his affiliate. He prides himself on being an ambassador to other veterans who suffer from PTSD and who have overcome physical injuries. As a new member of Team RBW, he looks forward to spending the next few years, working on his personal goals while giving back to the community and spending time with other veterans.

Ashley Wallace

Ashley Wallace. “Being part of Team RWB is a goal that I’ve had for a long time now. Now that getting out of the military is in my near future, it’s important to me to be able to share a bond with other veterans, as well as stay healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. Team RWB helps to facilitate those very concepts and so much more. Team RWB also connects me to my community locally and nationally and keeps me actively involved in ongoing events, giving me opportunities to carry on my leadership skills that I learned while on active duty as well as be an ambassador for the military and community alike. I get to stay active, meet new people, and have a lot of fun with a lot of really incredible people…that’s not something you find everyday!”

Alec Zirkhenbach 

Alec Zirkenbach ”I was commissioned in the Navy after graduating and completing ROTC at Virginia Tech. During my 10 year naval career I served as an Engineering Division Officer, Navigator, Navy Gun Liaison Officer, Flag Speech Writer, Plans Officer and Maritime Security Boarding Trainer. I suffered a severe leg break and subsequently almost lost my leg due to the extreme circumstance. After multiple surgeries and rehab, I was lucky to still have my leg, albeit with permanent limitations. I feel grateful that I’m as able bodied as I am considering my injuries and I’ve made it my new career focus to serve those who were (or will be) injured as bad or worse than I was. After retiring from the Navy, I opened Fathom CrossFit and now coach and operate the business. With the aid of Dr. Theresa Larson, DPT, and other medical and training professionals, Fathom is the premier gym for adaptive athletic training. My goal is to make post-rehab fitness attainable for all adaptive athletes and wounded warriors. This is where I learned of Team RWB and the amazing things they do for us warriors. Fathom hosted a two-day Functional Fitness Camp for any Team RWB members and will do so as long as there are athletes interested. I began CrossFit as a way to challenge my fitness level and I immediately realized I had been missing out (that aha moment). I trained for just a couple months before deploying and subsequently suffering a freak injury that landed me in the hospital for a month and had over ten surgeries to try and save my leg. Rehab and recovery was a slow and demoralizing process…until I rejoined a CrossFit gym. I can honestly say that CrossFit, and more specifically, the amazing people in this community saved me from a long road of physical and mental despair. Today I’m stronger and healthier (albeit disabled) than I have ever been, and I never would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the coaches and friends I’ve met through CrossFit. I train, coach, and love CrossFit because it gave me a second chance at a healthy and happy life.”

Alex Delacampa

 Alex Delecampa. “Retired navy, left active duty in January of 2014. Prior to leaving active duty I spent my time going through some physical as well as mental traumas due to my injuries. During that time the only thing I could think about was getting back to my former self. Team RWB has given me the avenue to do that last year I was apart of there working wounded games and it felt amazing being back in my element competing and being apart of something. This year I’m hoping to go back the wwg and hopefully be apart of some other activities with my local chapter. Team Rwb is a neccessity as far as I’m concerned to those who want to be surrounded by those like minded.”

Great job team!

 

I am a 49 year old disabled veteran and have been since 1990. My disability is like many others, I have two crushed disk in my lower back that occurred on my tour in Bosnia. I’ve worked hard on keeping my life heading forward with many highs and lows since leaving the service. I lived in Germany for 18 years and returned to the states in 2008. While in Germany I gained about 50 lbs right off the bat after leaving the service. My motivations were drinking German beer and eating all that good German food. I couldn’t get motivated to stay healthy. I was over 240 in no time at all after being 195 lbs most of my military career. About two years ago I started running again and my back is what would always stop me. But I keep going and started to lose weight with help from my amazing wife.

After a year of running on and off, my wife joined me; that’s what really motivated me to get moving. Two years later I am 210lbs and just competed in my second triathlon in two months.

My interests are now running, biking, swimming and meeting new athletes. I am currently a member of the Chattahoochee Triathlon Club who have been a great family of athletes that have cheered me on and motivated me and Team RWB COLUMBUS/FT BENNING which has inspired me by their dedication to take care of local veteran servicemen and women.

Most of my CTC family members are also members of Team RWB. I work out 6 days a week, catching each tri sport twice a week and will run my first Marathon in November and do my first 1/2 Ironman in April 2015.

These are my goals and motivation now. Thanks again!

 

“What’s always intrigued me about you is you’re a progressive liberal with veterans as her main cause”, said my friend and mentor, Sergeant George O’Keefe, as we were catching up after his second deployment to Afghanistan. I understand why my leadership of Team Red, White & Blue Maine is surprising. A female civilian – with few ties to the military – is not your “typical” veteran advocate.

But, in actuality, I come from a long line of people who have pushed for social change. My grandmother was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights who became a State Senator at 52 and helped pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Vermont. As an attorney general, my uncle has led major cases against Big Tobacco and nuclear energy. Though she was never in the military, my mother firmly believed in “no man left behind” and instilled in me a powerful commitment to community service and a lifelong dedication to volunteering.

So, when news broke in 2007 of the horrific conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I was galvanized to take action. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran (USMC) and the grand-daughter of a WW II veteran (Army), I grew up hearing stories of the courage, sacrifice, and honor of serving in the military. Wounded veterans coming home to moldy, rat-infested conditions was unspeakable to me. I felt that helping veterans feel respected and supported as they returned to civilian life was righting an awful wrong.

After searching for a good “fit”, I heard about TRWB in a 2012 NPR story. I loved their hands-on approach to supporting veterans and their emphasis on physical fitness, a long-standing passion of mine. Immediately, I committed to starting a chapter and launched TRWB Maine in January 2013 with a lot of drive and a list of 10 names.

Since that time, I’ve grown the Maine chapter to 180 members and expanded our events from 10 to more than 30 per year. While I’m enormously proud of the quantifiable ways our chapter has evolved, it’s the more intangible, personal growth I’ve experienced that is much more meaningful to me.

Over the past 22 months, I have learned so much from TRWB members about commitment, resiliency, and inspiring others. The young vet who helps homeless vets get active in their communities, while coping with his own PTSD symptoms. The civilian wife, left home to deal with a long driveway and one of the worst winters in Maine while her husband was deployed for nine months. A vibrant, tireless veteran advocate who privately told me that without TRWB she would be “so depressed” in her return to civilian life.

I’m so proud to serve all of them and it’s their energy and fire that inspires me through long nights answering e-mails and early mornings driving to races. In the U.S., we honor veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but in Eagle Nation we honor veterans every day.

With the approach of “Make a Difference Day” (October 25), I’ve reflected on what I’ve learned from making a difference in my community. In Team Red, White & Blue, we are guided by six Core Values: Passion, People, Positivity, Commitment, Community, and Camaraderie. I think that the following are key to my success in leading a TRWB chapter and to anyone who wishes to make a difference:

PASSION: I believe that our society will prosper only if we maximize the talents, training, and dedication to service exemplified by our 1M+ returning veterans. So, I’m committed to making TRWB Maine a crucial resource veterans turn to for guidance, support, and fun as they evaluate the next chapter of their lives.

Maybe your PASSION is that you care about this country, and you want to have a positive role in our future?

COMMITMENT: To me, COMMITMENT and PASSION go hand in hand. It’s wonderful to want to help others, but success comes down to COMMITMENT. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But consistent, high-quality execution is the only way to demonstrate to yourself and others that you are determined to make a difference in your community.

POSITIVITY: A recent Pew Research study found that divisions in American society are the deepest since the Civil War. But in TRWB, we stand for inclusion and collaboration. Our POSITIVITY fuels our growth and inspires others to join our team.

As you’re evaluating how you’ll make a difference, consider – in a negative, fractured society, what will you do to spread POSITIVITY? In April The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that volunteerism is at an all-time low in America. But I don’t see that in Eagle Nation. Our more than 50,000 civilian, active duty, and veteran volunteers come together at 5Ks, in bowling alleys, and at pasta parties worldwide to share our experiences, our passion, and our commitment to building a better society.

So, as we prepare for Make a Difference Day, I ask you – if I, a civilian woman, can successfully lead a veteran advocacy organization, what will YOU do to make a difference? As a first step, why not Join Our Team? (http://www.teamrwb.org/)

 

Imagine crossing the finish line to a race that you never thought you would get to do, but wanted so badly it hurt; to finally be able to participate alongside family and friends, rather than cheer from the side lines; to win in front of a crowd when others didn’t think it a possibility for you; to show people that while at first glance you may appear as a “poor little thing”, “handicapped”, “wheelchair dependent”, you actually can defy odds, steamroll over what people say “can’t be done,” and kick some major butt.

Cecilia has led a life of proving science, medicine, experts, statistics, and so much more wrong. She survived a tumultuous pregnancy, a very premature birth, a rare and deathly illness (she was the first survivor of a total of four cases from the NICU she graduated), an uncommon and serious risk of surgery, and a rare and severe life threatening condition secondary to her brain damage. So often Cecilia has been tokened ”the medical mystery” and has been part of too many case studies to count. This little engine that could has had her a** kicked by life, but refuses to give up.  While she is often quiet and speaks in short phrases, Cecilia is a very feisty, ornery pistol of a little girl with a great sense of humor.  Despite tight and painful muscles and joint contractures, this girl wakes up smiling every single day.

In the spring of 2013, Cecilia started becoming regularly unconscious for 10 minutes up to 10 hours.  At first, physicians thought it was seizures, but as time went on it became evident this wasn’t textbook.  During these “episodes”, Cecilia’s temperature would drop into the 80’s, oxygen saturations would drop below 70%, heart rate in the 40’s, and scary low blood pressures.  Weeks in the hospital running every sort of diagnostic tests determined she was completely healthy.   Cecilia’s physician performed significant research of case studies, reached out to colleagues in the field internationally to discuss her case, and figured out she was likely having autonomic dysfunction involving her hypothalmus.  The severity of her condition was rare and serious. In layman’s terms – the part of the brain that controls life’s most basic functions to live and survive, understandably the most protected part of the brain – was “storming” or misfiring and freaking out. There were just 50 documented individual case studies – and none showed good results from the treatments each tried.  In fact, the only thing consistent was that little helped to lessen the severity of the symptoms, and when treatment seemed to be somewhat effective, it only helped for a few months before it quit working.

We spent three weeks in the hospital trying different medications and dosages with little improvement.  Cecilia was fine in between these “episodes” and quickly became sick of sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to machines. From playing tricks (like bringing a running crowd of nurses and physicians to her room by holding her breath and causing her monitors to alarm) to being grumpy and depressed, she made it clear she just wanted to go back to her regular life. As her mom, I was scared watching her knock on death’s door with her episodes and heartbroken seeing her so miserable in between them.  I finally made the very difficult decision to take her home – because the best gift I could give her was quality of life. Her physician agreed with me – science and medicine were limited and they didn’t have a known solution to “fix” her.  It was one of the hardest choices I have had to make. While I knew this was what she wanted, I struggled immensely – this was not the order of life. As her parent I was supposed to be the one who died first, not me burying her.

Several conversations and challenging choices were made: orders for a “limited code” and “do not rescucitate” were put in place.  I took Cecilia home to get back to life as she knew it – going to school with her friends – and to make every single moment matter in case it was her last.  I cried every single night – from stress, grief, exhaustion, being overwhelmed as a single mother with no one to help carry the weight of all of this, the unfairness of the entire situation, and hopelessness that there was not a damn thing in the world I could do to help or fix her.

Lucy, Cecilia’s little sister – wise beyond her 7 years – quickly picked up on the seriousness of the situation.  She asked gut wrenching, heart breaking questions that no child her age should ever have even have a notion to contemplate.  Lucy would process for hours in her head and then would react as she was emotionally able to – as a 7 year old – who was sad, mad, frustrated, angry, scared, and so many other emotions she didn’t yet even know the vocabulary to name.  As she struggled with the idea that a kid, her very own big sis, could actually die, I too was challenged with getting my head around it – and that was with 30 years of life experience on her.  We planned Cecilia’s life celebration (aka funeral) down to every detail – because it gave Lucy a sense of control for which she longed.

Prior to all of this, I had registered Cecilia to do a triathlon in July of 2013. Coming from a family of runners and triathletes, and being one myself, I had decided it was time for Cecilia to experience triathlon.  Now (end of May), there wasn’t much hope she would survive to see June. Her episodes were lasting longer, occurring more frequently, and it was becoming difficult to leave the house with her because of her physiological instability.  I found a “back up” kid who had cerebral palsy to take Cecilia’s spot in the race. I decided I would give this experience to a child with cerebral palsy annually to honor Cecilia and have her legacy live on.

June 1st came – and Cecilia was alive.  She was able to perform in her dance recitals mid-June despite having her “episodes”. We took a Make a Wish trip in the third week of June – and even though she had a really bad and long episode just a few days before we were scheduled to depart – we made a ton of great memories.  Near the end of June and after continual medication dosing changes, her episodes started to become less frequent (from 1-3 per day lasting 3-10 hours to 1-2 per week lasting 45 minutes – 3 hours). July 1st came, and she was still alive.

On July 13, 2013 Cecilia was loaded into the two man raft boat. I tethered it to my makeshift harness, said to her, “Let’s do this!” with a fist bump, and swam her to the race start.

A coworker waited at the swim exit, a family friend waited in transition next to the bike and trailer, her grandma had her running shoes laced up and was ready with the jogging stroller, some 20+ family and friends stood in their blue Team Cecilia t-shirts, and word quickly spread among the 1500+ triathletes and spectators standing nearby that a little girl in a wheelchair was getting ready to indeed participate in this triathlon.

As I swam Cecilia that morning, the crowd was deafening. I couldn’t help but smile and feel a flood of emotion.  For once, my little girl with so much spirit, who truly personifies perseverance and determination, was getting the praise she deserved. Rather than people pointing, looking away, or worse, casting stares of pity, they were cheering with approval and support.  The entire race was that way – top triathletes that caught up with us on the course (despite our 15 minute early start) – yelled, “Great job! You are awesome!”

Cecilia’s face was one big huge smile – she was having the time of her life. She was finally a part of something she had watched her entire life and hoped to do.  She was doing what every kid wants to – swim, fly down a hill on a bike, and run with the carefree spirit that only a child can.

When we crossed the finish line, I had no idea how long it took us.  I had no clue what place we were in.  For once, I didn’t care and it didn’t matter.  At that moment, as my throat got tight and I blinked back tears, I thought, ”Holy sh*t!  She shouldn’t even be here.  Who cares about kicking cerebral palsy’s ass.  Cecilia is still alive!  That is a first place win if ever there was one!”

As we have continued on this journey, Cecilia has miraculously improved thanks to the dedication of her medical team.  In 2014, she went snow skiing, hiking, white river rafting, horseback riding, alpine sliding, and canoeing.  She was registered for four triathlons this summer (two have been cancelled mid-race due to weather) and finished first in her age group for a 5K.

I joined Team RWB this past spring after talking to a couple of fellow triathlete friends who were already members and seeing there was a weekly group run close to my house.  My friends talked about the “family” of fellow team members wherever you go, and the mission of enriching the lives of veterans through the community created by sport and recreation.  Cecilia has taught me that there is always something to smile about and never a good reason to not get out and get moving.  Finally, doing something that gives back to those that have ensured the luxury of our freedom and equality of all regardless of ability – it seemed like a natural fit.  My entire crazy family (I have three kids) has been embraced by Team RWB.  My youngest two often accompany me for the group runs – either cheering or jeering the other runners.  All of us ran with the Team at a recent 5K.  We are all proud to sport the eagle, but most of all – grateful to have such a strong support group!  I look forward to participating in more Team RWB events – and our big goal for this year is to get Cecilia to finish her first marathon at Marine Corp in October! Boom!