Runners on a mission

Seventeen runners passed through Raleigh over Memorial Day weekend on the way from Shankesville, Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Georgia working to raise money to treat service members with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
From left

RALEIGH — Jerrod Turner was a combat army medic for ten years. He planned on it being a 20-year career before he was medically discharged.”I’m a medic, they called me Doc — broken bones, gunshots, I can take care of all that,” Turner said. “But when it happens to you, on the inside, invisible injuries, the pain the inability to sleep, the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) you’re like ‘what the heck?'” Turner was one of seventeen runners that passed through Raleigh over Memorial Day weekend on the way from Shankesville, Penn. to Atlanta, Ga. working to raise money to treat service members with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The group left on May 22 running 22 kilometers a day for eight days, wearing 22-pound flack jackets. The number 22 is critically important to these runners.”Twenty-two veterans of the United States military commit suicide everyday. Our mission is to reduce that to zero,” said Glenda Thor, one of the organizers of the Shepherd’s Run.Shepherd’s Men and their annual east coast run is the primary fundraising effort for Atlanta-based Shepherd Center’s SHARE (Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence) Military Initiative.”The program saved my life,” said James Peterson, who graduated from SHARE in 2015. “Prior to entering, I was ready to be one of the 22 who killed themselves. I had committed in my head that I was going to be one of them. My wife would have been a widow, raising my boys without their father. But at that point I thought they were better off without me … Everyone’s trauma is different, everyone’s injury is different. For eleven weeks I focused on what worked for me and my family.”The SHARE program welcomes veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD. It provides 12 weeks of in-house comprehensive rehabilitation for veterans and their families, providing housing and the confidence and tools to move forward, plus a “life coach” for one year to keep them on track. The first step they say is a two-week assessment where they often have to explain to clients what PTSD is and what is happening to them.”I didn’t even believe it, but coming to the Shepherd’s Center they show it to you. They say, ‘Look, this is what is going on with your brain, it just makes sense.’ I needed someone to put the pieces of the puzzle together for me and they did.”The program has been operating for eight years and served 300 service members, focusing on just ten at a time. The longer treatment time and personalized approach is key to its success say some of it graduates who are running to support it.”I truly believe that the people who work there could work anywhere in the world and they choose to be there, making a difference for veterans one person at a time. That makes a huge difference, knowing that your occupational therapist wants to be there helping you, not just because it’s their job,” said Peterson.SHARE at the Shepherds Center has served military members from all over the country, including N.C. These runners hope that pounding N.C.’s pavement doesn’t just drum up donations, it reaches potential patients who could benefit from the program.”We run also to find those who are affected and let them know that there is hope. They are not alone. They are not pariahs. There is a community that loves them and wants to take care of them. When you think about the military assets in N.C. with Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, they’ve engaged in the war fight as much as anyone,” said Travis Ellis, Shepherd Run’s founder.”It’s incumbent upon all of us to share the burden and we encourage the Raleigh community to do that with us,” he added.Runners in Raleigh jumped in to run with the group and helped line up sponsors as they passed through the state. Ellis said that since they founded the run three years ago, the runners have logged 2,000 miles and raised $1.3 million. But they say the toll of their burden and the reward in the run can’t be measured.The nonprofit program is run completely on donations. It costs $40,000 per client, about $1.2 million a year, to operate, but the patients pay nothing. This year they hope to raise $2.2 million. Paul Vandrie graduated from SHARE four years ago, but ran this weekend for a friend named Brittney. She was a service member who took her own life just a month ago. He wore a photo of her taped to his chest throughout the grueling run.’Unfortunately it hits everyone,” said Vandrie. “We’ve got to get the word out. You think it’s normal, everything is fine, but then it just hits you.”From downtown Raleigh the runners headed to Asheville, N.C. then on to Nashville, Tenn. The run wrapped in Atlanta on Memorial Day where they were welcomed by crowds lining Peachtree Avenue near the Shepherd Center.”Everyday that we go out we talk to people about this program,” said Jamie Terry, who is running the Shepherd’s Run for the third year. “Hearing their stories and knowing what a difference this SHARE Military Initiative has made in their lives and how it has brought their families back together, it’s amazing and worth every step.”