SWFL nonprofit uses fitness to help veterans transition to civilian life

Just a few years ago, Karter Elliott says he couldn’t look at any photos of himself in the military, let alone talk about them. Elliott served twelve years as a marine, with multiple deployments. Like many veterans returning from war, readjusting to civilian life proved challenging.

“I’d be like normal angry like reasonable angry sometimes, but there’s always the chance I would scream and yell and carry on for a period of time,” Elliott says.

He had a short fuse. Most social situations made him feel uncomfortable, so he skipped them or would self-medicate with alcohol to get through it.

Then he discovered Southwest Florida Warrior Health & Fitness which is

The local chapter of Home Base Veteran and Family Care in Boston. It’s a free program for veterans that offers fitness and wellness-based coaching — including workouts at Florida Gulf Coast University, which donates the space and some staffing help.

 

“The reason we thought the health and fitness program was so important initially, was because veterans have much higher preexisting injury rates from service related issues most of the time,” says Armando Hernandez, Southwest Florida program director at Home Base.

Hernandez says the focus on fitness has been a big draw for veterans, not only because they want to improve their health, but it’s also an opportunity to find camaraderie again with fellow veterans.

“You’re going to find someone there who is struggling in a similar way to you and not necessarily mentally but physically,” Elliott says.

Through a partnership between the Red Sox foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, Home Base also offers an intensive two-week inpatient program, which includes trauma therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Several local veterans who started with the fitness workouts, ultimately embraced the intensive program in Boston – which is also offered at no charge for veterans.

“The least vulnerable entry into care is to say, ‘Hey let’s come in let’s focus on getting stronger and faster.’ But what it’s turning out to be is a great transition into the next-level of care for those veterans who may not have been ready to address that at that period in their life,” Hernandez says.

For Elliott, it was a long process to understand what was happening to him, before he could be open to doing something about it.

“Really, in my mind, I had no symptoms, right, because you build a life of avoidance,” Elliott says.

Then came the nightmares, anxiety and outbursts that wouldn’t go away. It was tearing apart his family.

“It got to the point before ICP, where I had pretty much just said I’m done, I can’t do this anymore,” says Renee Elliott, Karter’s wife.

It was a breaking point. Elliott turned to the only place he felt comfortable asking for help, like many other veterans before him.

“Some issues they may have been facing on the inside, that maybe weren’t so visible, were now starting to come to light,” Hernandez said, “and they were willing to talk about it.”

That’s what happened to Elliott. And once he was ready, Home Base referred Elliott to its Boston location for trauma therapy in 2017.

“I was sick of like the roller coaster ride and the low points,” Elliott says. “…but I think I was finally ready also.”

Elliott says the intensive therapy changed his life.

“Our marriage and relationship in general is a one thousand times stronger,” Renee Elliott says.

“I feel hopeful in general. I never have a moment of hopelessness,” Elliott adds. “If we just stop avoiding, this is all very manageable. And you can live a life worth living.”\


If you would more information or want to register for Warrior Health & Fitness of SWFL click here.

Author: Reporting by Teri Evans, online story written by Katie Cribbs
Producer:katie
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