Marine Sgt. David Wright of Omaha will climb on his bike to pedal through the second-largest canyon in the United States. According to Omaha.com, he will be pedaling away from a past of daily roadside bombs, as well as his daily drinking binges that numbed the panic attacks and flashbacks. He will be pedaling alongside former president George W. Bush, who was commander in chief during his two tours of duty in Iraq.
Wright is one of the 20 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans picked to participate in the second-ever Warrior 100K, Bush's three-day, 100-kilometer ride through Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas. The ride is meant to honor those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ride remains one of the former president's most public events. For David Wright, the ride through the canyon serves as another milestone in his recovery from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
David's recovery had been slowed by misdiagnosis, as well as his belief that Marines do not ask for help. David claims his recovery was put into motion by one very big admission. David said, "Just a year ago, I finally admitted it to myself. I needed help."
David went to boot camp in late 2000, just two days after turning 21. Less than three years later, he found himself in Iraq. He fought all the way to Baghdad during his first deployment. During his second deployment, he fought the Battle of Fallujah, which was the single deadliest fight of the war. David believes this is where his problems began.
Roadside bombs exploded near his unit each day, and the brain rattling IEDs caused tens of thousands of concussions and more severe brain injuries. David claims the rocket-propelled grenades were even worse. He said, "Boom, and you'd get that 'whoo-whoo-whoo' feeling until you snapped out of it. Then you'd realize that you's just gotten knocked out for maybe 10 or 15 seconds."
When David re-entered the civilian world in 2005, he suffered from vertigo and balance problems. He remembers feeling like his head might spin off his neck. At first, VA doctors didn't diagnose a traumatic brain injury. Even as doctors began to figure out that he may have suffered mild concussions in Iraq, his health continued to deteriorate.
David moved to Boston, where he often found himself alone in his apartment, suffering from panic attacks. He requested a transfer back to Omaha, hoping that being in close proximity to family and friends would help. It didn't. David claims he tried to hide his struggles, and by last year he had quit his job and was holed up in his apartment, drinking every day.
David recalls, "It was six or seven years after combat, and I couldn't put up a front anymore. I just kind of gave up hope." Feeling he had hit rock bottom, David checked himself into the VA hospital, first for substance abuse treatment, then he became part of an intensive inpatient PTSD program.
He saw results immediately, and feels that conversations with other vets and support of his family and friends made all the difference. He started in an outpatient program and continued weekly counseling. Biking also became a salvation for David. he said, "You get back in there, and it's trees and mud and everything. It's like you aren't in Omaha anymore. It's great."
David looks forward to the upcoming biking event. He will cycle through giant ravines and valleys carved out by the Red River. He will bike with 19 other veterans, riding 20 miles each day, and then stopping for a fancy dinner each night. He will pedal alongside Bush and the Secret Service. David said, "I look forward to spending time with these wounded warriors in a beautiful part of Texas. This is a chance of a lifetime." David Wright is lucky to be making this trek.