Moving to heal the invisible wounds of war

As soon as the war began, Ryan Vanderweit was deployed to Iraq. After reentering civilian life seven years later, he had a difficult time adjusting. A person who has served in the military has a very different mindset when they come out. Making friends was a challenge for him, and he wasn’t sure how to deal with the changes of the new world. As a result of his anxiety, he suffered.

Vanderweit didn’t connect with a new vet friends until they started working out together. Having someone understand his experiences and come to work the same time every day was a transformational experience for him. In his words, “I found myself again in that place where I belong.”. A runner and fitness enthusiast himself, Vanderweit knew others could find their way to well-being through running and fitness.

It’s personal for me, because fitness has helped me save my life in many ways. My knowledge of its capabilities is extensive.”

Home Base, a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, was established around the same time to help veterans like Vanderweit thrive in life after service. Home Base’s Director of Wellness, Dr. Ron Hirschberg, says the program addresses the invisible wounds of war. Hirschberg hopes to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health as a barrier to seeking treatment. Mental health challenges are no different than physical challenges to communicate to the public and to the veterans themselves.

Vanderweit was inspired to join Home Base as soon as he found out about it. His current job is running Warrior Health and Fitness, a 90-day program in which he works with 20-30 veterans per week. “This mission is personal,” he says, “because fitness, in many ways, has saved my life. My knowledge of its capabilities is vast.”

Vanderweit’s first cohort included Johnny Jarnagin. While serving in the army, he was deployed to Afghanistan as a medic. Similarly to Vanderweit, who struggles to find his place in civilian life, he also struggles to fit in. In the beginning, Jarnagin says that she wanted to distance herself completely from her military experience and to just forget about it. The act of burying and forgetting things isn’t a good way to handle them, so I was grateful to find Home Base and a community of people who had gone through a similar experience.

Fitness was a major point of connection in the military, with everyone working out every day, so Jarnagin found it natural to connect with other veterans as a civilian. Before Home Base, he had never considered the connection between physical and mental health. Jarnagin says people who have been in the military have experienced a great deal of stress, challenges, and trauma. I believe most people will become more whole if they are willing to push themselves again in a physically demanding way.”

This fall, Vanderweit puts into practice his daily practice of helping people overcome perceived limitations. It’s a six-day, 250-kilometer race spanning the harsh desert sands of the Sahara. It’s something he never thought he would do. He is looking forward to pushing himself and the healing that comes with it, as well as bringing awareness to the work Home Base is doing to help veterans. Vanderweit says that while it may not be for everyone to join a gym or run, movement is necessary for all.

In addition to its annual fundraiser Run to Home Base, which culminates with a scenic run through Boston and crossing Fenway Park’s home plate, that home base idea shows up in everything that Home Base does. Home Base and New Balance have partnered for over 10 years, so it’s a natural partnership for both entities. As a corporate sponsor, New Balance has done more than just sponsor. The veteran population is important to them. Vanderweit says the people he serves are important to them.

In this year’s Run to Home Base, which takes place on September 25, Vanderweit says veterans face more challenges than ever before owing to the pandemic. To learn more or sign up, visit runtohomebase.org.

Call (617) 724-5202 to learn more about the support services offered by Home Base. If you would like to contribute to Home Base, please click here.

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