Last year, I ran a blog post interview of Meghan (Megs) Lederer, the Executive Director or Team Race for Veterans. At the time, R4V was just getting going, and I’ve witnessed tremendous growth over the past year as an R4V Ambassador. I thought it was high time to catch back up with Megs and share what’s been going on over the past year. It’s easy to forget about the harsh realities of NPOs – long hours, low pay, and often, not much concrete to show for your efforts. But as you will read below, Megs and team have a ton to show for the past year. Bravo to Megs, R4V and all who support!
This week, Iraq has been on my mind quite a bit. What was once Operation IRAQI FREEDOM became Operation NEW DAWN, which officially ends on on the 31st of December. I hope Iraq, with its controversy and its bloodletting, is not doomed to suffer the same fate as Vietnam within American culture. Tom Ricks, over at The Best Defense, has shown concern over the past year about the rate of decline in the number of books written on Iraq being picked up by publishing houses. As divisive as Iraq has been, and felt, it is not nearly as divisive as Vietnam, which gives me solace. But I fear that in our collective haste to move past Iraq, and focus on domestic issues, the needs of veterans will fall by the wayside.
The remarkable transformation of the VA; recognition of TBI as an actual injury; the post 9/11 GI Bill; these are all good things that have happened as a result of national awareness of veteran issues. Awareness that would have never happened if Iraq wasn’t going on at the time. This why organizations like R4V are so important. Wars end; the experience of of the veteran never ends. As we move into a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world, someone will have to remember the vets. I hope that someone is you.
A few weeks ago, as I thought about some new posts, I thought it might be a good idea to spread the word about R4V. Even better, I thought, if I could get the word straight from the source (as ‘up close’ as email allows). I’ve known Meghan Lederer for a couple of years now, through her husband Eric. For Eric and Meghan (Megs, as I know her), a good time involves heading to the hills with fanny packs full of PB&Js for a 30-50 mile run, or maybe something longer. What follows below is an email interview with Megs concerning R4V. For more information, please visit their website.
1) What is Team R4V for those who haven’t had a chance to check out your website yet?
Team Racing for Veterans (R4V) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support the rehabilitation of and provide opportunities for veterans in the United States through their involvement in athletics, races, and adaptive sports. Our mission involves empowering veterans to follow through on a path of healing with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
2) How did you come to be involved with R4V?
As I was finishing up the second year of my Master’s Degree, my husband got a phone call from one of his Air Force Academy friends, Joey Plank. Joey was calling to see how life was going and mentioned that he was thinking about starting a non-profit that focused on supporting disabled veterans. Eric mentioned that I was going to school for non-profit work and if Joey wanted any feedback to send me an email. Joey sent me an email that week and I provided feedback and assisted him and his wife, Bethany, in the initial stages of R4V. We collaborated over the next 6 months and eventually got to meet when they drove down to Tennessee to hang out and race in the Rev3 Knoxville triathlon. We hit it off immediately and they offered me the Executive Director position the next month. I happily agreed. Married to an OEF and OIF veteran, I have seen first-hand the effects of war on service members and their families. I also believe that being active can fundamentally alter a person’s life, and have witnessed this phenomenon while coaching 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon training groups. I consider myself extremely lucky to have a job that I am passionate about and look forward to every day!
3) Why R4V as opposed to one of the other veteran’s support NPOs?
Team R4V is taking a unique approach to rehabilitation and reintegration in that we are tapping into the power of sport to rehabilitate the mind, body and soul, foster camaraderie, and to instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in oneself. Recent research has proven that self-empowerment is a critical component to the rehabilitation process, especially in healing injuries such as PTSD and TBI, the “signature wounds” of Iraq and Afghanistan. Through sports and physical challenges, veterans begin taking back the power that trauma stripped of them and developing the confidence and strength to take control of their lives. That’s why Team R4V is focused on giving disabled veterans the opportunity to set goals and compete again.
Another way in which Team R4V is unique is that we serve all United States disabled veterans with a service-connected disability, both active-duty members and those that have retired, separated or been discharged from the military. They do not have to be wounded in combat, as we believe anyone who has served their country and sustained a life altering injury deserves support and assistance.
4) When you think of who R4V will support, is/are there a/some individual/folks whose story really keeps you motivated in your work with R4V?
More than I could have ever imagined. I think about the people that I have met on this journey, and they have this fight about them – this raw determination to live and passion for life. I don’t know what makes someone like this – it may be that they have looked death very closely in the eye and realized that this is the one life that they have. What they do not know is that they inspire me daily to live life passionately, enjoy quiet moments, and love with all that I am. One individual that stands out in particular is Chief Master Sergeant Damian Orslene, or the “Chief” as he likes to be called. The Chief was an accomplished triathlete, and competing in races was a favorite pastime of his; however, all of that was put in jeopardy during his 2007 deployment to Kirkurk, Iraq where he sustained multiple injuries. The Chief “twisted” his hips, tore his shoulder, blew vertebrae, damaged his ears and was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). These injuries along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have brought with them many challenges. Post –injuries, the Chief thought about taking his life. He told me he had never felt that kind-of low before; the pain was so intense and that was all he had to focus on. Then, he was asked to represent the Air Force in the 2010 inaugural Warrior Games (an Olympic style event sponsored by the Department of Defense and the U.S. Paralympics for disabled veterans). He trained for 10 months as hard as he could, and competed in multiple swimming events and wheelchair basketball. The Chief says that sports absolutely saved his life. It gave him hope, empowered him to focus on healing, and gave him the much-needed self-confidence that is crucial to following through on a path of healing with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The Chief is an absolute inspiration, but he is also in need of a wheelchair to practice basketball in, and a bike that is adapted to his abilities. He has reached out to multiple organizations for assistance, but no organization has been able to help him. This is where Team R4V will fill in the gaps of support.
5) Explain how R4V will work – what is the model? (Looking for an idea of the moment someone donates/raises money, where it will go from there, the end product, etc.)
Team R4V strives to be as lean and transparent as possible. In such, we have made the process very simple and straightforward for our veterans and donors. Donations will be used one of two ways: to directly support wounded veterans or to support our charitable athlete program. A simple process for veterans is of utmost importance to our organization. We have heard complaints that it is way too difficult for veterans to get support form other organizations, so we have taken that feedback and made our process straightforward. In order for a veteran to get R4V assistance, all they have to do is log on to our website (www.teamr4v.org) and go to the “Veterans” tab. The application to receive funding is posted on our webpage. They fill it out and then email it back to us. We will have an answer for them within 8-10 weeks regarding funding. Let me also explain the charitable athlete program of Team R4V, which is our primary renewable source of funding for wounded veterans. A charitable athlete is an individual who commits to raising funds for Team R4V in exchange for an entry into a race along with a top-notch training program. Our charitable athletes will be coached by Coach Cami Stock, who is the founder and owner of Wild Blue Racing. For more information about Team R4V’s charitable athlete program, visit: http://www.teamr4v.org/Athletes-Corner/Overview.html
6) R4V is brand-new, and you obviously see a lot of potential in the organization. What can we expect to see from R4V over the next year or so?
We have a very exciting race calendar in 2012 in which charitable athlete teams will be racing for Team R4V. Our inaugural event is the Anthem Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach, and after that we have the Air Force Marathon, Army 10 Miler, Marine Corps Marathon and New York City Marathon. We need athletes who will run for our organization for each race. If all charity slots are filled, we will raise over $200,000 that will go directly to assisting disabled veterans. Team R4V is also very involved in the CrossFit community. We have set up a fundraiser that will take place during the 5-week Open Competition leading up to the 2012 Crossfit Games. We have quite a few gyms involved, but anyone in any gym can participate. Details are on our website.
7) If there is one thing the readers of this post take away, what would do you hope they get from it?
Matt, your blog says it all: “Run for Something”. Of course, I would love for your readers to run, race, CrossFit and fundraise for Team R4V, but giving to any veteran support organization is a worthy cause. The number of disabled veterans in the United States has jumped by 35% since 2001. Deployments have been longer and redeployments to combat without breaks have been common. Not only have many suffered the serious physical consequences of war, but many have also paid the grave psychological costs. Over 300,000 military service members who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Over 170,913 veterans have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
I hope that your readers will continue to support each brave man and woman that has served and is serving our great nation.