Stars and Stripes and De Colores
I went to bed around 9pm and woke up ready to go at 1am. Dang. I’ve got 30 miles on the running schedule today and I’m thinking I’m not going to be all that peppy when 9am rolls around and I start running. Boo.
Asa’s performing “De Colores” in a Dual Language Winter Showcase next Tuesday, so we’ve been singing it every spare moment to help him learn the lyrics. (Take a listen if you aren’t familiar with this “traditional folk song that is well known throughout the Spanish-speaking world.” And then imagine Eliot, Asa and me belting it out in the car, around the dinner table, around the breakfast table, getting ready for bed, brushing our teeth, etc. Make sure to imagine me singing wildly off key. I was raised Catholic and our singing abilities peaked with Gregorian Chant.)
My Texas-raised husband looked at me like, “What other knowledge gaps have I missed?” when he realized I’d never heard the song before. (“Hey, Eliot, you should hear this song Asa has to sing. It’s got a really catchy melody.”) Well, sure, the melody has been around in the Americas since the 16th century (if the Wikipedia is to be believed) and every artist and their brother seems to have recorded it at some point — but Whatever! I know other 16th century stuff. And at least I knew what a polluelo was (Verse 2) — even if I can’t pronounce it without swallowing my tongue.
Anyway, here is an article in the Stars and Stripes about the camp. I love the “run a 50-miler” peer pressure described — and that I get to think of myself as an insurgent now.
Chasing relief: Vets find camaraderie, peace in pushing their bodies to the limit
Leo Shane III
OUTSIDE ROCKSPRINGS, Texas — Jim Buzzell is one scary veteran.
He hears voices. The antipsychotics he takes quiet them sometimes, but not always. His other medications usually keep him calm around strangers, but he did threaten to murder a vacuum salesman who knocked on his front door in October.
The 34-year-old gets belligerent when his wife doesn’t remember the imaginary conversations they never had. He broke down, sobbing and screaming, when a nurse he didn’t know walked into the examination room for his routine checkup. He starts to tug his hair and shakes a little just talking about his injuries.
His Army build, foot-long tattoos on his arms and legs and bushy beard only add to the intimidating stereotype.
For the last three months, Buzzell has kept himself on partial home confinement in South Carolina, saying even short trips to the post office down the street are too overwhelming. He thinks his traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are getting worse.
But here, surrounded by complete strangers in the remote hills of West Texas, that Jim Buzzell disappears.
Thousands of miles from home, at a running camp with about 100 hard-core athletes, this Jim Buzzell is a social butterfly. He stops people to quiz them about their shoes. His hand goes up to volunteer at every request. He joins random conversations and immediately clicks with everyone.
Buzzell runs a chapter of the veterans advocacy organization Team Red, White & Blue back home, bringing together veterans and civilians for races and other athletics. That helps him relax, too. But it’s not usually this many veterans, or this many civilians, or this much fun.
He’s laughing, a lot. As the group runs down into a nearby canyon, you can hear him joking and guffawing as he keeps pace. No one thinks he has any problems, except for an old ankle injury he mentions in passing.
“It’s only here, it’s only running,” Buzzell said. “I know I’m not like this at home. It’s the only thing that stops the voices in my head.”
Only a few people here know about the voices. Most just think Jim is another nice guy.
That’s the whole idea behind this event and others organized by Team Red, White & Blue. The group’s mission is to “enrich the lives of veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
Founder Mike Erwin jokes that it’s an insurgency model for introducing veterans to Americans who know little about the military.
“Meeting new people isn’t easy,” he said. “Veterans are already in the community, but we want to give them a chance to really connect with others. If we can do that, it helps move from a military career to their new life in the civilian world.”
Team RWB surveys have shown about 60 percent of servicemembers don’t move back to their hometowns after they leave the military. With almost 1 million troops expected to leave the service in the next five years, that creates the potential for a flood of lonely, disconnected veterans across the country.
Over the last two years, the group has held relay races, bicycling clinics and even a yoga camp to bridge that gap. November’s elite running camp was the largest event to date, with more than 100 civilians, veterans and active-duty troops coming together in Texas.
Several of the civilian runners admitted they weren’t sure what to expect from the military marathoners, either for ability or demeanor.
“I was expecting a lot of ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ from these guys,” said Daniel Murphy, an ultramarathoner from Houston. “I’ve never really known many veterans. But just hanging out with them, they aren’t like that. It’s pretty cool.”
Fellow Houston runner Nicholas Forge said he worried that “maybe you wouldn’t understand these guys, or maybe they’d have some psychological issues.” He also doesn’t have any close friends or co-workers who are veterans.
“But these guys are friendly and great. They’re normal,” he said.
Normal is something that Buzzell has been chasing for months. He was medically discharged from the Army early this summer, six years after a roadside blast in Iraq seriously injured almost every part of his body. Read the rest here.
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