"It was the first time in a long time I was truly happy for something..."
It wasn’t more than two years ago that I was going everywhere with my service dog “Mush” getting looks from everyone from “Awe, what a cute puppy!,” to “What the h*** does she need a service dog for? Maybe she is training the dog.”
One day I got an email from a complete stranger asking me if I wanted to climb a mountain, and I replied maybe 10 times before I got a response saying he had nothing to do with the board but he will put in a good word. Then I got an application and it took me three months to fill out what would be the start of my life not depending on Mush and not being a full-time patient…me starting to be myself again.
The application was to climb a mountain, Cotopaxi in the Andes, with Soldiers to Summits. It is 19,300 ft., and it was all I could think about once I turned in my application. As soon as they called me and said I was accepted, I ran around my house like a little kid drinking too much pop. It was the first time in a long time I was truly happy for something, that was, at the time, still just an image in my mind.
Since I was injured I was always getting down on myself for not feeling better — for having a headache, for being depressed. But, then I went on the first climb with the other vets out in Colorado and saw that there was no competition, no need to get down on myself. I was able to let a little of it go; see how relaxing all of it was; experience how healthy the outdoors was for me; and learn how much I craved it. Soon, I didn’t need Mush as much anymore, and I found myself being able to laugh and joke with other people.
On one of the days leading up to the summit climb in Ecuador, Charley Mace, one of our guides, made me leader for the day which was very scary for me because I couldn’t see myself in that role since I retired from the Army. I learned that I can be a leader, and people can respect me even though I have a lot of hang-ups about my head injury.
In the nine months I spent training and climbing, I learned more about myself than I had in my four years of doctors’ office and psych appointments. I learned a lot from friends who had struggles like mine and the friends who were different from mine. I craved the conversations with the Soldiers to Summits guides and their stories of the travels they had, which lit a fire in me and propelled me into the outdoor world to which I now know I am destined to belong.
If you or someone you know should be a part of the Mission: Mt. Whitney expedition, check out S2S2014.org to nominate or apply.