A Moment of Pure Joy: Wounded warrior John Goubeaux experiences triumph on the water while surfing.
To John, completing a bicycle ride with 50 other wounded veterans is one of the greatest accomplishments for a man who has already reached many achievements. John Goubeaux retired from the military after serving 24 years in the United States Air Force as an aircraft and power plant crew chief. John served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and kept some of the finest aircraft airborne: KC-135 Stratotanker (large in-flight refueling plane), F-16 fighter jet, RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft, and transport planes like the C-130 and C-141. But all those letters and numbers couldn’t prepare John for the sudden change in his life.
After retiring from service, John took a job in the civilian world that mirrored what he did in the Air Force. While working in the sweltering North Carolina heat in July of 2011, the 90-plus-degree temperatures overcame John. He lost consciousness and fell off a vehicle, landing on the concrete eight feet below. The fall broke John’s collarbone in three places. His head slammed onto the pavement, and the impact caused bleeding on his brain, leading to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He also quit breathing at one point. Doctors rushed to save John’s life. The swelling on his brain got worse, leaving no choice but to remove a portion of his skull. Doctors kept that large part of his head in a special freezer for 10 weeks while waiting for the swelling to go down.
“My TBI left me with a loss of taste and smell, short-term memory loss, vertigo, vision issues, constant headaches, weakness in my left arm and leg, and heightened post-traumatic stress and depression,” John said. “For most of a four-year period, I was either in the hospital or homebound.”
John leaned on prescribed medication to cope with his pain. Then he discovered Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). John saw a commercial for the veterans service organization while watching TV around Thanksgiving.
“I saw individuals struggling like me. My wife took me to the Wounded Warrior Project office in Fayetteville, North Carolina, so I could find out about meeting other warriors, without judgment or pressure.”
That encounter led to many more opportunities for John to spend time with other wounded warriors – group dinners, painting classes, barbecue lessons – all chances for John to expand his support structure and bond with other veterans. John said post-traumatic stress from his deployments created a gulf in his life – before he became involved with WWP.
“I acted like everything was fine and did not notice the changes,” he said. “My wife, Vicky, encouraged me to do things with my troops, friends, and family, but I had gotten to the point where I would just let the phone ring, and I wouldn’t leave the house. I made excuses about why I couldn’t visit; I always had something else to do.”
Isolation is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds similar to those formed in the military.
“Vicky says we were living life like roommates after the war,” John said. “We went through life to get along and not upset the ship. After my TBI, we were together 24 hours a day, but we became more distant than ever.”
WWP provided opportunities for John and Vicky to reconnect and spend time with other warrior families. They enjoyed a holiday-themed dinner aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina; an Elton John concert; and even a chance to swim with whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium.
“Wounded Warrior Project has been a real family to us,” John said. “It has provided fun things for us to do together, but also fun things to do with other veterans and their families.”
One of the fun things for John has also turned out to be life-changing. He took part in Soldier Ride® in November 2015 – joining 50 other warriors to ride more than 34 miles through Ponte Vedra, Vilano Beach, and St. Augustine, Florida, over two days.
“It was inspiring. No amount of money could bring the experience that Wounded Warrior Project brought me.”
Activities like riding a bicycle and socializing with other veterans can help injured warriors cope with stress and emotional concerns. In a WWP survey of the injured warriors it serves, more than half of survey respondents (51.7 percent) talked with fellow Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn veterans to address their mental health issues, and 29.6 percent expressed physical activity helps.
While the experience brought John dozens of new friends who he can keep up with through social media, it also awoke a past passion. John and Vicky used to ride bicycles together before his fall. After his injury, they sold their bikes because they didn’t think John would be able to ride again. That was before they knew about WWP’s Independence Program.
John enrolled in the program, which helps warriors who rely on their families or caregivers on a daily basis as a result of moderate to severe brain injury, spinal cord injury, or other neurological conditions. WWP’s Independence Program works with each warrior and his or her whole support team to set personal goals and a plan to help each wounded veteran live as independently as possible.
In John’s case, part of this meant getting involved in a fitness routine. When he first started, he could only walk or ride for about 14 minutes before his blood pressure spiked too high.
“Now, thanks to Wounded Warrior Project’s Independence Program, I can ride the recumbent stationary bike for an hour, burn 400 calories, and my blood pressure doesn’t go above 130,” he said.
John not only completed the two days of Soldier Ride including crossing the Vilano Causeway over the Tolomato River, but he gained the respect and admiration of his fellow warriors. He now also has another method to manage pain and other issues.
“Instead of turning to medicine, I reach into my memory bank of positive events to outweigh the negative thoughts and migraines. I have not had a prescription narcotic since October 2015.”
John’s positive spirit and can-do attitude during that ride also earned him a Soldier Ride award. The honor recognizes the individual who progresses the furthest during the multi-day program event. John’s prize was a plaque and a new recumbent bicycle for him to ride. John was thankful for the award and everyone in the room who took part in the ride and motivated him to complete the journey. WWP took an extra step that morning by purchasing a bicycle for Vicky to ride as well. Vicky has been by John’s side through all of his struggles, and now she can be by his side throughout his recovery.
The couple has taken to the bicycles. Between January and July of 2016, John rode more than 1,100 miles. He now has a goal to lose 52 pounds by September 2017. John has also found time for other adventures he never thought he would get to experience.
“You guys made the impossible possible,” John said, referencing a recent outing at Carolina Beach, where he rode a surfboard in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a thrilling opportunity he did not expect to get. “Surfing was an outstanding experience. I enjoyed spending time with other wounded warriors.”
For John, WWP represents opportunities and ways to cope with the wounds of war.
“My wife has noticed a significant change in my attitude and appearance,” he said.
But rather than reflect on all he has accomplished, John has a message for others.
“Everyone has their story and journey that provides obstacles. Mine is not much different from the other warriors who faced challenges while serving this great nation.”
They may have similar hurdles to overcome, but John gives warriors something to look up to with his uniquely positive approach.
Contact: Rob Louis – Public Relations
About Wounded Warrior Project
We Connect, Serve, and Empower
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP connects wounded warriors and their families to valuable resources and one another, serves them through a variety of free programs and services, and empowers them to live life on their own terms. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. To get involved and learn more, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.