Brothers in healing: No Boundaries program helps wounded veterans through NSCD
March 20, 2015
Will Treacy was thrown from his Humvee in January 2008 in Afghanistan.
Eric LaBarge was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.
Stephen Jackel was caught in a blast in Afghanistan.
Sitting among a handful of other combat-wounded veterans in the Moffat Station cafeteria, Nick Morris is a little more candid.
“People like us who have lived that, you have no clue, no clue what it’s like until you’ve been through it.”Eric LaBargeCombat-wounded veteran
"I got blown up," he says. Everyone laughs. "I had bad day."
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For civilians, words like IED, blast and combat are vague notions. They're the abstractions used to frame a narrative that most Americans will never understand. That of war.
This disconnect in experience often makes assimilation a challenge for veterans returning home.
"Coming back from a combat zone and sitting on the couch watching desperate housewives with the wife isn't what was normal for me," Jackel said. "What was normal for me was hunting down Taliban and killing them. And sitting on the couch and trying to get back to civilian life, it was difficult."
Many of those the lunch table have similar stories.
"People like us who have lived that, you have no clue, no clue what it's like until you've been through it," LaBarge said.
Though it may seem paradoxical, the experiences that haunt these men as individuals become something entirely different when they're shared. They become a force for healing.
Healing in numbers
That's one of the ideas behind the program that has brought this group of 10 combat-wounded veterans to Winter Park Resort on a bluebird Thursday afternoon in mid-March.
No Boundaries is a sort of retreat for wounded veterans. Every year, the program brings a group of 10 to Winter Park and, in conjunction with the National Sports Center for Disabled, gets them out on the slopes for a bit of fun.
Following the blast in Afghanistan, Jackel lost both of his legs. For him, adaptive skiing is therapeutic.
"It's healing for me because it takes my mind off the anxiety that I have, the nerve pain from my prosthetics and a broken back," he said. "To not experience pain while doing something active is completely healing."
Jim Stanek did three tours in Iraq before he was medically retired due to disability and injuries.
He said the program has changed a part of his life.
"It's just opened up another door for me, and I'm just so forever humbled for the opportunity and so grateful for the opportunity," Stanek said. "It's a new opportunity and a new chapter of life and I think it's amazing."
Morris said standing atop the mountain allows him to see "the beauty of America and what you're willing to sacrifice."
"What you're fighting for," LaBarge added.
But the most glowing reviews from the group are not for the program itself, but for the woman who started it.
It was about 9:30 p.m. when the accident happened.
Molly Raymond was returning to her home in Virginia after a night at the movies.
She was about a mile from her house when two cars struck the rear of her vehicle, spinning it into a guardrail.
Later she learned that the teenagers had been drag racing.
Raymond was knocked unconscious in the crash, and sustained moderate diffuse traumatic brain injury.
She spent the next four years in speech, cognitive and physical therapy. She wasn't able to return to work as a nurse.
Before the accident, she was athletic and a skilled cyclist and skier.
"My physical therapist didn't think I'd ever ski again," she said.
Raymond came to Winter Park with her family, and with the help of the NSCD, learned to ride a ski bike.
Raymond's father was in the military, and her husband Mike is a Marine. Volunteering at Walter Reed Army Medical center, she spread the word to wounded veterans about the NSCD and its adaptive programs.
Three years ago, Raymond was riding the Zephyr when the idea came to her.
"I told my instructor that NSCD has changed my life and it's changed my family's life forever, and I want it to change other peoples lives," Raymond said.
She said she wanted to focus on combat wounded veterans.
"He said, 'lets do it.'"
Since, then No Boundaries has hosted four groups of veterans for the retreat.
The program doesn't host groups larger than 10, Raymond said. The small group size is important for the camaraderie.
Raymond is able to share her own experience of recovery with the men in the program.
Stanek, who also has a TBI, called Raymond "an absolute inspiration for guys like us."
"It's humbling to know that there are still people that appreciate everything soldiers and Marines have done for them, that they would extend a hand out to help us in return," he said.
No Boundaries has no staff, and the Raymonds take no compensation for running it.
Far more valuable, though, are the experiences and relationships that are built through the program.
"The bond that we build, we're a family," Raymond said. "We will be a part of their lives and they're a part of our lives forever."
For more information about No Boundaries, visit facebook.com/noboundariesmilitary.