Wednesday morning kicks off the first Operation Vet Fit – Help Our Military Heroes spinning event at Private Studio Fitness in Bethel. Founded by Marine Dan Gaita, Operation Vet Fit exists to provide a 24/7 fitness center to returning combat veterans in the Greater Danbury/Bethel area who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Affecting 1 in every 4 service men and women returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, PTSD can have detrimental effects if left untreated.
“Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom service members are at risk for death or injury. They may see others hurt or killed. They may have to kill or wound others. They are on alert around the clock. These and other factors can increase their chances of having PTSD or other mental health problems.”
Gaita, who served as a Marine from 1992-1996 in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, said by offering his facility to other returning veterans and creating a team atmosphere where fellow Veterans can support each other, he is in a sense helping himself as well. “I am only just recently dealing with it [PTSD] myself after 16 years,” Gaita said.
One returning combat veteran who participates in the program, Todd Angell, was awarded the Silver Star for heroism, the third highest award in the Military. He said going to the gym is a way to work through the stress he often faces. “When I have a bad day I go to the gym. I work out every day and it really helps calm me down,” Angell said.
The spinning class will be taught by Help Our Military Heroes co-founder Laurie Hollander, who was instrumental in getting the spin bikes donated for the program, Gaita said. Hollander said: “Vets want to be with other vets. It’s a healing and a reintegration for them,” she said.
Hollander became aware of what Gaita was doing through other local vets she stays in contact with through her non-profit charity, Help Our Military Heroes (HOMH). One such vet, Tom Hibner, from Danbury, a retired Army Veteran, is involved at the Danbury Veteran’s Center and saw the flyer of the 5K Bethel Memorial Day Race Gaita organized. Through the race, Hibner got connected to Gaita and other vets in the community who meet regularly to help each other cope with life after combat.
Hollander was inspired to begin helping veterans after visiting her son at a West Point football game in 2006. Sitting with her friend Mary Beth Vandergrift during the halftime show, she witnessed something that changed her life. They wheeled a double amputee veteran onto the field and presented him with a van that was equipped to give him the freedom to drive and regain a bit of independence he lost at war. Tears streaming down their faces, the pair knew they had to do something and so Help Our Military Heroes was launched.
Help Our Military Heroes raises funds to provide customized transportation to give wounded vets the sense of independence they enjoyed prior to being injured. The vans are customized to individual needs. Help Our Military Heroes also donates to local organizations that assist veterans in the transition from military to civilian life.
Since 2010′s inaugural HOMH’s SPINATHON & FITNESS Event held in Danbury each January, they have taken in over $500,000 that they were able to use to customize vans for veterans. Since December of 2009 HOMH has donated 19 vans and raised over $120,000 through various fundraising events. The VA takes care of all costs associated with the injured serviceman/woman’s prescribed modifications.
Last January, HOMH welcomed their 5th van recipient, Green Beret, SSG Mark Holbert and his family. On an upper-body hand crank cycle, Mark participated in one of the Spinathon’s cycling hours. Mark was joined in this ride by Mike Erwin, USMA ’02 grad. Major Erwin is now assigned to USMA at West Point teaching. “It was very emotional for everyone,” Hollander said, “because everyone could directly see who their money went to.”
Each Friday Hollander, Vandergrift and their Team Red, White and Blue team mates wear red and spin. This Wednesday they continue that tradition by expanding their class into Bethel and offering the spin class at Private Studio Fitness, free of charge, to local veterans.
Hollander said she found spinning 11 years ago after “searching for something more.” After being hit by a drunk driver at the age of 19 and numerous back surgeries, Hollander said she came to a point in her life that she knew she needed something more and spinning was it.
For inspiration before class Hollander looks at a picture she keeps in her gym bag of one of the recipients of the HOMH vans, SSGT Mark Holbert. “He was our 5th van recipient, a double amputee, lost 2 fingers and had 3rd degree burns when his Captain, started Team Red, White and Blue. He was only 6 days out of a 3-month-long coma when he said he wanted to do a marathon.” Mark’s GOAL was to hand crank his portion of a TEAM RWB RELAY From GettySburg to Washington, DC.
Team Red, White and Blue is a non-profit charity that supports veterans by increasing the connectivity between combat veterans and people in their communities. By using exercise as a medium to bring people together, Team Red, White and Blue helps returning combat vets reintegrate into society in a healthy way. Each Friday they wear red in order to:
R – Remember
E – Everyone
D – Deployed
Laurie is a CT Captain for Team RWB.
For more information about Operation Vet Fit please visit http://bethelfitness.com/vetfit.htm, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/vetfit/ or call 203-994-2987. Private Studio Fitness is located at 120 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel.
For more information about Help Our Military Heroes, Inc., or to donate to their cause, please visit http://www.HelpOurMilitaryHeroes.org/.
Source: Bethel Buzz News
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