Blog written by: Kris Lord

Note: This blog is Part 1 of a 6-Part Blog Series.

The Growing Veterans peer-support training in Washington was an exceptional opportunity for some Team RWB Executive Staff to expand on what we do organically across the country every day.  Our leaders are essentially incredible peer supporters on the ground – offering a variety of support to their teammates at every event we hold – whether that support is physical, social, emotional or practical.  And we get that support in return.  Our recent work in suicide prevention and intervention, through safeTALK and ASIST training, feels like a very natural extension of this.  

I was grateful to be invited to participate in the Growing Veterans peer-support training last November, and to be amongst fellow leaders in Team RWB, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, and clinicians from the VA.  

I was struck by the similarity with some of our work – empathy and active listening, storytelling, and the weight of shame.  It was three days of powerful sharing and solid tools we could all take away to our own organizations. I came away with an understanding that, at some point, we will all most likely be both peer and peer supporter; that it’s a fluid role, and part of the human condition to be both at different times in our lives.  And we learned, when acting as a peer supporter, just how important it is for us to have our own circle of support we can consult with.  

By far, the most powerful moment for me was when Chris Wolf of Growing Veterans shared this about shame: the only reason for shame in tribal society was for behavior so dangerous, it was necessary for one to be shamed out of the tribe, for the good of the tribe.  It was then I truly understood just how painful and damaging shame is, especially the shame we place on our own shoulders.  When it was my turn to talk, I told Chris that statement felt like a knife through my heart – my heart broke, just thinking about the weight of shame so many people carry, and the physical or emotional isolation it brings.  Though it was difficult, I was able to share with this group of people I care about and trust, my own struggles with shame and anger.  I knew it was safe, and even though I felt anxious afterwards, wondering how it might have been received, I also knew deep down that my group had my back.

TMC and RWB

At every event with Team RWB, and with my tribe in my SF chapter, I come away with the feeling that my group has my back.  Never before have I felt so safe to be myself – my authentic self – and I don’t think I truly understood what that felt like before.  It means I get to be me without walls, and make those authentic connections with people.  Some people we click with more than others, and that’s normal and OK.  Because what a gift it is to at least know that I’m doing my best, and allowing myself to be seen for who I really am.  And I continue to be touched by the courage of others who do the same – it is an honor to be witness to who you are!

Blog written by: Tom LeMaitre; Team RWB JBLM Hiking Coordinator

A while back, Earl Shaffer “The Original Crazy One” and his hiking buddy, Walter, made plans to hike the newly complete Appalachian Trail after the war that they knew the U.S. was about to enter.

Fast forward to 1948.  Earl is home, Walter was killed in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and life had changed.  Earl decided to make good on the attempt of the Appalachian Trail after reading that no one had yet to do it in a single season of hiking.  He was quoted as saying, “I did it to walk the war out of my system.”

Earl and many others like him knew of the restorative power of nature.  With the motivation from that idea in mind, Team RWB JBLM decided to hold a “Hiking 101” series each Sunday starting in June.  Each hike was planned to get a little longer and a little tougher, but still in the realm of doable by most.

For me, these hikes meant sharing something I love with the people that I care about. It is relatively easy to lead an event when it is doing an activity that you already enjoy!  Hiking is my personal passion; I wanted to pass that on to other Eagles.

It’s not a secret. The trails have healing properties! When we go out, head up a mountain or to a lake, we can and must maintain focus for safety. The day-to-day world, a little at a time, gets cast off and if, but briefly, forgotten!  There are groups all over the country using this same therapy and guiding veterans on some of the major through hikes.  Connecting with nature allows one to refocus, to process feelings easier and sometimes to just enjoy the quiet. Sensory overload that is a part of everyday life is replaced with sensory stimulation of the grandest kind! At the end of a day on the trail, the veteran will come out with more clarity and calm. When we add civilians to the mix we find the divide that often occurs between civilian and veteran gets stripped away! Both realize that the divide they are in fact very much alike! This can carry over to day-to-day living in the community with a greater understanding and mutual respect. Skeptical?  Let’s go for a hike!  

I wanted to share the most important part from my point of view.  I call it the inchworm effect.  Any time a group shares a trail, the lead goes out and the tail hangs back… then the lead slows for the tail to catch up.  Why was this so important?  What does it do that many other activities don’t? It gives people a chance to talk. Their position changes throughout the hike, and so many different people get to connect on many different levels to each other.  It was amazing that such a diverse group could find such a connection!  Each week people talked and got to know one another by sharing the trails.  Plans were made to get together and spend more time with one another after hikes.  Each destination was picked for some “wow” factor and it didn’t disappoint!  So many people never get to get out and experience what nature has to offer right in their own community, but for these four Sundays, we did just that.  For me, seeing someone in awe of a view or hearing two people laugh and talk – that was the whole purpose and how I determined it to be a success.

We just completed our last hike on June 26th.  Some did one, some did a few, but by the last hike we had 17 different Eagles come out to join!  Throughout the series, we did just over 17 miles, visited two Cascade waterfalls, and three Alpine lakes!  There were prior service, active duty, spouses, children and civilian participants.

Once we finished our last hike, a mom told me “I’m sad that we’re done”.  But, really, we are not even close to done!  We will be out more, sharing trails, listening to the kids get excited, and sharing more time in nature, healing and being together.

Nature is a very powerful drug, but needs constant follow up.  Back to Earl. In 1965 he did the trail again, from North to South, becoming the first two way through hiker…  To commemorate his first hike 50 years earlier, he did it again in 1998 at the age of 79!  And so shall we!  

If you or your chapter would like to try some outdoor exploring and want to use some of the resources I used, feel free to contact me! [email protected]

 

Blog written by: Austin Howard

One afternoon in the heat of Las Vegas, I received an email from Donnie Starling about a run the next morning down the Vegas Strip. I showed up because I heard that I might be able to get a free shirt (who would pass that up?) but I stayed around because what I encountered that morning was so much more than just a quick workout down one of the most renowned streets in the world with others I had never even met.

There are only two types of people that are on the Strip at 7 in the morning – the crazy marathon runners training while on vacation and the people who are wandering back to their hotel room still intoxicated from the night before. Either way, both types of people will crack a smile and cheer on a united group of individuals running with the red, white and blue streaming behind them. It was on this morning that I experienced the power of being connected with people that I didn’t even know, simply because we all chose to wake up that morning, throw on our running shoes, and come together on the Las Vegas Boulevard.

Several months passed as a member of the Team RWB Las Vegas Chapter and I loved meeting up with the crew for a morning run or an afternoon hike at Red Rock. The events were compelling, the morale was contagious, and I enjoyed getting to know fellow Team RWB members on a more personal level. Then I got orders to Minot, N.D.

Power of Investing in Others

Not only is Minot popular for its extreme cold temperatures, but I soon learned there wasn’t a Team RWB chapter in the area. During my first months in the frozen tundra, I connected with my fellow Airmen, but I still longed for something more. I started wearing my Team RWB shirt when I went to the gym and while at work. On one of these days, another person in Minot came up to talk to me about my shirt—that deep red with the pointed and proud eagle on the front. I soon learned his name: Will Wright. He had been a member of the Team RWB chapter in England and as it turned out, he missed the camaraderie too. Will and I made a decision together that day, under the falling snow and fervid wind. We would wear our shirts whenever we could in an effort to see who else might be familiar with the organization.

The response was overwhelming. What started out as a small group of people wearing our shirts because we could soon became the beginning of a new community of this perpetual organization—Team RWB Minot. We started meeting for physical and social events in March of 2015.  After going through the process to start this new Team RWB community, we reached over 500 members within a year.

Team RWB Minot has now been a Team RWB Community for over a year. When we took the initiative to make this community official, I did it because I wanted to further one of this organization’s most beloved mottos: to enrich the lives of others. The funny thing is that through it all, I ended up helping myself. We’ve all heard that it’s far greater to give a gift than to receive one and it is the same with volunteering and investing in others’ lives. There is a reason why Team RWB has several thousand volunteer leaders. We find our sense of purpose by helping others, which in turn helps us continue to grow and develop ourselves. As Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others”. There might be dozens of people who show up to a Team RWB Minot event, but what means the most is when one of the members comes up to me and explains what this organization has done for them. One person took that step from an unhealthy lifestyle to working out and eating right. Another found friends and encouragement when they thought they were all alone. Still another found a little bit of light in a place where dark clouds and white snow cover the world for the majority of the year.

Team RWB is an organization that chooses to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. But here, it’s also an escape from the cold weather and a group where encouragement, laughter, drive and warmth thrive. It’s a place where people find themselves and discover that helping others means helping themselves in ways they couldn’t imagine. It’s a family. And it’s a family that now, three years after that very first run in the Las Vegas sun, I can’t imagine living without.

I showed up for the free shirt. I joined because of the people. But I stay because of the purpose.

Blog written by: Liza Howard


So you’re thinking about running 50 miles?   An ultra sounds like it might be fun?  An adventure?  A worthwhile challenge?  Or maybe you just succumbed to Eagle peer pressure?  Training for and running an ultra can be a fun adventure and a worthwhile challenge.  It can even give peer pressure a good name.  And whatever brought you to this point of embarkation, the 27-week training plan will help guide you to the finish line.

Long-time ultrarunner, coach, and race director, Joe Prusaitis, designed the plan to accommodate different fitness levels and time constraints.

Trail Running Joe

Joe began running roads well after military duty & college.  It was a short trip from road to trail. 20+ Marathons were the foundation used to catapult directly into 50mi & 100mi races. He then rolled through Hardrock, Western States, Wasatch, Vermont, Heartland, Rocky, Grand Teton, Arkansas, Bighorn, Barkley, and Badwater. Joe prefers 100 milers most and mountain terrain best, but also loves the variety, so just about anything and everything was worth exploring. From 1997 to 2008, Joe finished 35+ 100milers and a plethora of other odd ultras in the mountains, plains, and deserts. All of this over the past 25 years must be upwards towards 300 races, but he quit counting a few years ago. He was putting training plans together for friends from the beginning, but he started pursuing coaching professionally in 2009. Since then, Joe has coached 200+ friends. He still runs, but most of his time is now spent either coaching or reading. Odds are good that if you have a trail running goal in mind, whether it’s pretty pedestrian or sounds perfectly crazy, Joe can help you.

Here are some thoughts on getting started with it.

• Consult with your physician before you begin Joe’s program. The conversation will probably go something like this:

  • You: I’m planning to run a 50-mile race.
  • Doctor: That’s crazy! Why would you want to do that???
  • You: It seemed like a good challenge… Ultras are pretty popular these days.”
  • Doctor: You’ll ruin your knees.

 

• Joe’s plan starts with a 12-week base phase. If you can’t run 15 miles all at once yet, use the template to slowly build to that distance before starting this phase.  Just add one to two miles to your long run each week until you reach 15.

• Runs are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during the base phase. See the training plan for details.  Running is optional the rest of the week. Your fitness, the date of your race, and your work and family responsibilities will determine whether you choose to run these days.

• This 12-week base phase is a good time to work on speed.

• A 12-week endurance phase begins next. The goal of this phase is to increase the distance of your weekly long runs. You’ll build to a 35 to 45 mile run.  Key workouts remain on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

• A 3-week taper follows, bringing you to race day.

• Running with a friend or a group will make your long runs much more enjoyable. If you can’t keep up with a group for their entire long run, run with them for part of your run.  You can also enlist friends to run with you for shorts sections of your long runs.

• Take in 180-200 calories every hour when your runs last more than 90 minutes. You can use any combination of gels, chews, food, and drink mixes to accomplish this.  Figure out what combination sits best in your stomach.  Knowing how to fuel yourself is key to finishing an ultra.

• Drink to thirst. Make sure you bring enough water or sports drink on your runs to avoid becoming thirsty.  If you’re going to wear a hydration vest during your race, practice with it during your long runs.

• Pay attention to any aches and pains as they arise. Rating them on a scale of 1-10 in your training log will help you recognize when they’re worsening. Don’t run if pain is worsening from day to day.  And seek professional advice for any aches and pains lasting more than 10 days.

• Enjoy the crazy journey! And come to Team RWB’s National Trail Camp this October if you can for guidance from Joe, me and the best ultrarunners in the United States.  http://trailrunningcamp.org/

 

More on the author:

Liza Howard is an accomplished mountain, ultra, and trail runner living in San Antonio, Texas.  She divides her time between her husband and two young children, teaching for the Wilderness Medicine Institute, coaching, directing Team RWB’s national trail camp, and running 100-mile and multi-day stage races.  She has won the Leadville 100 twice and holds one of the fastest 100-mile trail times run in the United States.   She started as a road marathoner and continues to find success there.  She coaches for Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching.

 

By Joe Quinn, Director of Leadership Development

 

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world…”

Spoken in 1913, President Wilson’s words echo just as true today. These words resonate with the volunteer leaders of Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) all across the country. Team RWB exists to enrich the lives of our nation’s veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activity. We’ve found that the best way to enrich lives and change communities is through local, consistent engagement and interaction.

This is made possible by our Eagle Leaders.

Leaders that are motivated, inspired and have the right resources and mentorship to be effective each and every day. Our vision is that Team RWB will have a leading role in transforming our communities — showing America what it means to start working together again, and start moving forward in a positive direction.

Since we understand the critical role that leadership plays in our organization, we will invest heavily in our leaders through the Eagle Leadership Development Program. As part of this investment, Team RWB launched the first Eagle Leader Academy at our Headquarters in Tampa, FL in March. The Academy featured 15 Eagle Leader Fellows (leaders selected to take part in a 12-month fellowship), over a dozen Chapter Captains from across the country, and a handful of new executive staff members.

The three-day Academy provided an opportunity for leaders from across the organization to come together under one roof to discuss Team RWB’s brand of leadership. Our leaders spent time working out together, sharing meals together, but more importantly, discussing our ethos, values, and culture, and what it means to be an Eagle Leader. The Academy opened with each leader sharing their personal story and their ‘why’. Why Team RWB. Why they choose to be a leader in the organization, and why it matters.

The Academy also served as an orientation for our 15 Eagle Leader Fellows. Here at Team RWB, we believe in the 10/20/70 model for learning and development: 10% education, 20% mentorship and 70% just rolling up the sleeves, and being given a chance to lead in a positive environment. Over the next 12 months, our Eagle Leader Fellows will be immersed in leadership training and development consisting of education, experiences, and mentorship. Eagle Leader Fellows will pursue a fully funded accredited certificate in leadership (or equivalent external leadership education) from top universities and programs in addition to the full complement of Team RWB leader development curriculum. Each candidate will also have full access to attend Team RWB Athletic & Leadership camps, as well as leadership seminars and summits. And most importantly, each candidate will be mentored by actively working on projects with their Team RWB Regional teams, to put their leadership education and experiences into action.

In the end, these Eagle Leaders came to Tampa to develop their leadership skills to go back home to enrich veterans’ lives, to enrich their communities, and in turn, to enrich the world.