Wounded Veterans Climb Mountain, Learn to Manage PTSD
"There isn't a mountain too high that is going to stop me. Nothing can stop me."
That’s what William Mathis said while climbing a 1,000-foot face in Lake Tahoe at a recent Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) mental health workshop. An Army veteran, William is nearly 100% blind in both eyes. He copes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after surviving several mortar attacks at his airfield in Iraq. Upon returning home, his PTSD almost ruined his marriage, and it intensified his glaucoma that developed on deployment.
But those challenges didn’t stop William from completing a fixed climb up Squaw Valley’s Tram Face with several other wounded warriors and their spouses. The Tahoe Via Ferrata climb has permanent rungs and cables that provide a protected experience. Guides at Alpenglow Expeditions, an internationally renowned mountain guide company, led the climb.
Veterans experienced the adventure as part of a Project Odyssey®, which is an outdoor, rehabilitative mental health workshop. This WWP program helps warriors learn to manage PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other combat stress while connecting with nature and fellow veterans. This Lake Tahoe gathering included the warriors’ spouses to help them reconnect and rebuild communication.
“We encourage warriors and couples to step outside of their comfort zones when they come to Project Odyssey to challenge themselves,” said Troy Heil, WWP staff member. “When we’re in our comfort zones, we’re not challenging ourselves. We’re not growing.”
For Navy veteran Pauline Colyn, the climb helped her confront her anxiety and live in the present moment. “Taking everything one step at a time is a really good lesson to take from this climb,” Pauline said. “It’s definitely something that on a daily basis you can just say, ‘Alright, this is getting overwhelming, but I’m here now. What’s my next step?’”
The climb was the last of several activities warriors and their spouses completed during the workshop. Other activities included a bike ride, yoga, art, and reflective discussion. Over the following 12 weeks, the couples will work with WWP on establishing goals and making positive progress through a series of follow-up phone calls.
William was thrilled to experience the climb, and the entire Project Odyssey, with his wife Mallory. “I’ve learned that I have a lot of things that I can continue working on, and there are a lot of things that we can continue working on as a couple,” William said. “This isn’t the end. It’s just a new beginning. We can still work together as a team. We just have to do it differently now.”
Jon Blauvelt – Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.426.9756
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.