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Veterans biking program at Granby Ranch offers rehabilitation through adrenaline

Sarah Wieck / Special to the Sky-Hi News
Staff Photo |

For over a decade now war and conflict have reshaped American society and with it our understanding of what it means to be a veteran.

The last decade has brought new phrases and concepts like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), largely unknown to the average civilian, into the common lexicon. As a new generation of fighting men and women return home, they, like those who came before them, struggle to readjust to the civilian world and to find some measure of the same meaning, purpose and excitement they experienced in the crucible of war.

As the number of veterans returning from the War on Terror has increased, programs and organizations have cropped up throughout the nation to address their unique needs. More than a few veteran support programs have formed right here in Grand County, which is the county with the highest number of veterans per-capita in the state, according to the Rocky Mountain Warriors Project.

For some veterans rehabilitation and support means getting out of the city and enjoying the opportunities provided by the high country; quietly relaxing or fishing with friends and family. Other veterans are looking for something different, though, something faster paced and fueled by adrenaline.

“I have been through TBI and PTSD, and being on the trail crew at Granby Ranch, being outside in nature and exercising really helped.”Devon NesselrothMountain Bikes for 03s and 11Bs founder

Therapeutic rush

For infantry Marine and combat veteran Devon Nesselroth, dealing with the legacy of his two combat tours means riding mountain bikes, at high speeds, down the rocky gravity-fed trails at Granby Ranch Bike Park.

“Downhilling has been really good for me. It has been very therapeutic,” said Nesselroth. “It is a positive outlet. I need something to give me that adrenaline rush in a safe way. You miss that when you come back from combat.”

The impact downhill mountain biking made on Nesselroth and his own journey dealing with PTSD and TBI was profound. The wiry young veteran saw the hobby as a potential community for his fellow veterans as well as a therapeutic hobby.

This spring Nesselroth pitched an idea he had for a veterans biking program to Granby Ranch, where he works on the Park Maintenance Crew. The resort liked the idea and agreed to sponsor the program with the first set of riders taking to the slopes in June.

“We are trying to build a community around this,” Nesselroth said. “They don’t have to be beginner riders. We are encouraging riders of any level.”

Mountain Bikes for 03s and 11Bs is the program Nesselroth has developed with Granby Ranch. It is administered as part of Granby Ranch Resort with riders enjoying the rugged natural terrain offered at Granby Ranch Bike Park. The program covers the cost for the veterans, paying for bike tickets, rentals and kits and camping accommodations for the two-day excursions, led by Nesselroth.

The terms “03s” and “11Bs” refers to the Marine Corps and Army designated codes for infantrymen, respectively.

So far this summer the program has conducted four excursions. The program runs every other Wednesday and Thursday and will continue through mid-September. All physically able veterans are welcomed to the program, regardless of disability. Participants must provide their own transport to the resort and money for food.

Vets community

Nesselroth explained the program currently focuses on downhill mountain biking but he is looking to other possible sports in the future.

“It has the potential to include more than just downhill mountain biking,” he said. “We are building a community of veterans around extreme sports; taking a group of guys that have had an extreme experience and directing them into extreme sports.”

So far Nesselroth has hosted riders from the Army, Air Force and Navy including a Navy Corpsman he served with in Afghanistan.

Nesselroth served in the U.S. Marine Corps from August 2005 through July 2009. During his time with the Corps Nesselroth spent significant time in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, serving in two of the hottest combat zones in either theater. He was in Iraq from September 2006 through May 2007 spending most of his time fighting in the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi. In 2008 Nesselroth and his unit were sent to Afghanistan, moving into the southern regions of Helmand Province, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

Nesselroth left the Marine Corps in 2009, spending another four years on the inactive reserves. Since leaving the military Nesselroth has immersed himself in the world of mountain biking, working as an instructor at times and riding on a consistent basis.

“I just want to spread this to other vets who are having issues or don’t know where to focus their energy,” he said. “I have been through TBI and PTSD, and being on the trail crew at Granby Ranch, being outside in nature and exercising really helped. We want to create a positive environment for vets to share experiences, make friends and help each other cope with the effects of PTSD and TBI.”

Mountain Bikes for 03s and 11Bs is seeking more participants for future rides.

“Our biggest problem is getting new vets,” said Nesselroth. “It is hard to get guys from beyond the Front Range. Hopefully we can inspire some of them to take a vacation.”

He went on to explain that the program would not turn any veterans away but those diagnosed with PTSD and TBI would receive preferential placement, as well as those who served in the infantry.

If you are interested in participating in Mountain Bikes For 03s and 11Bs or for more information call 1-888-850-4615 or visit their Facebook by searching for Mountain Bikes For 03s and 11Bs.


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