The idea of getting into the sport of ATV riding/racing as a source of “therapy” was actually discovered by accident. Vigilant Vet, Inc.’s Executive Director and Founder Rick Proctor was invited to attend a local cross-country ATV race by a friend during the summer of 2012, was quickly bitten by the racing bug and soon realized how this had all improved his quality of life by addressing some of his PTSD symptoms. Here are the benefits he realized:
During a combat deployment a Veteran is on guard, exposed to danger and forced to take dangerous risks on a daily basis. Their adrenaline is constantly at a high level and in most cases they feel they need it to survive. Because of this, they become “adrenaline junkies.” Once the Veteran is removed from the combat environment, the need for this adrenaline greatly decreases and a large portion of Vets feel the need to fill this void. Unfortunately many of them turn to alcohol, drugs, infidelity or other reckless lifestyles that cause harm to the Veteran and their loved ones. We think racing can satisfy the Veteran’s need for adrenaline and discourage reckless lifestyles.
Go to any cross-country racing event and you will notice that most of the groups of racers, attendees, etc. are there together with family members. This is one of the most family-friendly sporting events around. A typical teenager may not get overly excited about going camping in the wilderness with their family for a weekend, but if that camping trip involves racing and riding ATVs, their interest greatly increases. Racing events draws families closer together and the atmosphere offers something for everyone. ATV excursions with the family are also wonderful as they are able to get away from the stress of everyday life (or triggers), relax, have fun, enjoy each other and rediscover some of the things that were lost in life after combat.
Probably the most common treatment for mental and physical health issues is EXERCISE, and cross-country ATV racing provides plenty. Racers have to maintain some sort of physical fitness to be able to endure 45+ miles of some of the roughest and least pleasant conditions imaginable.
Maintaining and preparing an ATV for racing requires a decent amount of the Veteran’s time. While there are obvious tasks such as oil changes, air filter cleaning and checking the tire pressure, there is much, much more to consider when an ATV has to perform for 2 hours and over 45+ miles of nasty terrain. In this way the Veteran relearns responsibility and discipline as the effort they put into this part of racing directly impacts their performance. The goal is that these rediscovered habits will transfer into other parts of the Veteran’s life as well.
While the military does promote and is largely based upon teamwork, individual and team competition can still be found everywhere. Veterans frequently had to qualify with weapons systems, test their physical ability, etc. These almost always involved some sort of scoring and naturally, competition. Cross Country ATV racing allows the Veteran with PTSD to compete with themselves or other riders but in an environment unlike most sports. Cross-Country tracks are typically 10-12 miles in length and while there are a few spectator areas, the racers are in and out of these places in no time leaving the Veteran to relax and focus on their riding and having fun. This is different from other sports where the competitors are constantly performing in front of spectators/crowds or in an environment in which they feel like they are in less control and are subjected to things such as unexpected, loud noises.
Vets often miss out on activities they once enjoyed with friends and family after the return from deployment due to their discomfort with crowds and the unexpectedness that comes with having a large amount of people in one place. While there are sometimes thousands of people who attend cross-country ATV races, the crowds are spread out over 100’s of acres of land allowing the Veteran to better relax at these sporting events and even ease them back into feeling more comfortable in crowded areas.
Last but not least, we want Veterans with PTSD to enjoy themselves and life again. We feel that with the combination of the key factors that cross country ATV racing can provide, Veterans can work toward obtaining a better quality of life. We want them to remember that it is ok; to smile, to enjoy life, to LIVE!