On Sunday, I left a public reception with tears streaming down my face. I just couldn’t contain myself. Not out of sadness! I was completely overwhelmed by inspiration and awe. Let me tell you why. I met five incredible veterans at the end of a staggering 4200 mile bike ride across the country. Their goal: to heal their wounds from war, while they inspire others to heal.
Each of these veterans were normal, average people in the past. They decided to serve their country in different branches of the military. Each of them endured trauma so profoundly unthinkable during their time in the military that they were left changed forever. Their backgrounds were diverse, and they were all overcoming physical and emotional wounds ranging from paralysis, PTSD, sexual trauma, and the pain of discrimination. But this isn’t a story about the painful memories they have. Rather, it’s a story of how they are finding a way to heal their wounds from war, to bravely share their stories, and to help others do the same as they rode their bicycles – two of them by hand – from Seattle to DC.
I have been following their journey for months. I wondered whether they would really make it 4200 miles without falling apart. After all, these people had never met before embarking on a 90-day bike ride together….two of them were paralyzed and riding recumbent bikes that they propelled by hand….and none of them considered themselves elite athletes.
When they started out, I’ll admit that I had a lot of questions. Would this tiny group raise enough money? Would this experience really help them become better people? Would they accomplish what they set out to accomplish? Those questions were answered for me after a five minute conversation with one of the riders – Colleen Bushnell. Colleen was sexually assaulted while she served at Lackland Airforce Base in Texas. In the past, she suffered from PTSD, depression, and homelessness.
Colleen’s intensity and strength shook me to my core. We began talking about what it means to heal, and how to put the pieces of a shattered life together. After 4200 miles, here was what she said to me (and I hope I do this justice):
“Trauma has a way of making your path clear to you. In a way, this is a gift even though it won’t seem like it at the time. The path to healing is to share your story with anyone and everyone that you can. You have to start small and trust seemingly unrelated events will help you find your way.”
I know I barely scratched the surface with these veterans, and I may never know their full stories. I have no idea how hard it was for them in combat…and how hard it was for them on the road together over the past 90 days. But I can tell you they make me grateful…for what I have….for what I haven’t had to endure….and for them. They are proof that anyone can heal a broken heart. And yesterday, these veterans visited the White House…..