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Team Red White and Blue

By Eric Whittington
THP_7850AA

An Army “brat” from birth, I was born in Akron, Ohio in 1970. My father is a Viet Nam veteran; my brother, Michael, is in active duty in the Army with three overseas tours; and my brother, Joshua, is in the Marine Corps and has one overseas tour.  I was in both the active duty Army Infantry stationed at Fort Ord in California and the Ohio National Guard. After being out for nine years, I returned to the Army Guard for one more tour.

At the present time I hold a counseling intern certificate to work with alcohol and substance abusers, am part owner of Brimstone Bicycles in Canal Fulton, Ohio and am the Athletic Director for Team Red, White & Blue (RWB) Cleveland/Akron. I participate in Ironman events, which consist of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and then running 26.2 miles. Also, I enjoy ultra-trail running distances of 50k, 50 miles, 100 miles and hopefully soon a 200-mile endurance running event. Recently, I competed in the Ironman event in Chattanooga, Tennessee, raising $5,000 for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation. Having a wife and a few special friends with Crohns, this charity is close to my heart.

Being involved with team RWB for a couple years now, I can say this is an amazing group of people. It has been an honor working with and training with so many veterans, active military personnel and civilian members who care enough to dedicate their time helping veterans enjoy civilian life through fitness programs and community service. We have so many veterans that truly need real help. They are lost, won’t leave their homes, and aren’t capable of going out and making civilian friends. There are veterans who are now amputees and feel they can’t do anything physical now or that they won’t be accepted.

I’m sure the feeling of acceptance is one of the biggest problems veterans face in the civilian world–trying to find people like us and trying to fit in somewhere. It’s a huge challenge for some of us and an even greater challenge for others. I was fortunate enough that I never suffered like a lot of my fellow veteran friends did, and now I will do whatever I can whenever I’m needed to help ANY veteran that needs me. I have always had a feeling of guilt that it wasn’t fair that others paid a price for their service and my price was minimal. I believe everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason is that I’m supposed to be here of service to my veterans.

Thomas Beers, Veteran Outreach Coordinator, states, “My goal is to give back to those who made a bigger sacrifice than I did while in uniform. When I run and feel winded, I often remember that I am running for those who may not be able to right now or perhaps ever. This is part of my sacrifice to serve others in need.”

As a team we have different activities scheduled throughout the week and can participate whenever and as often as we like. While there are weekly runs, swimming events, local 5k and up races, and cycling events, we also have social events such as picnics, bowling parties, and kayaking. Whatever interests team members, we organize it and do it. In a region as large as the Cleveland/Akron chapter, it can sometimes be challenging trying to accommodate everyone, but as we continue to grow and members continue to step up and help lead different events in more areas, we are able to reach and help more veterans.

“I am part of Team RWB because I wanted a way as a civilian to reach out to those who have served or are currently serving our country. I also believe in living a healthy lifestyle, and because of Team RWB’s focus on physical activity, it allows me to connect with like-minded individuals,” says Maria Perossa, Team RWB Social Event Coordinator.

Our chapter has over 275 members so far, including disabled veterans suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and loss of limb(s). Getting some of our veterans out of the house and into the community can be very challenging at times. However, once they see that it’s a brotherhood just like they had while serving in our armed forces, they adapt rather quickly. Instant friends!! We all share something in common–we want to be around people who can understand us and make us feel comfortable. Team RWB, recognized as a leading veteran nonprofit organization, provides that to our members.

When I race Ironman events, run 50ks, 50-mile and 100-mile endurance events, I don’t do them to compete against other athletes. I compete only against myself; in my mind, it’s my own race. It isn’t always about speed because I am not usually fast. It’s about facing the challenge that I have presented to myself and having the courage to take it on. It’s to help myself stay mentally strong, to give myself peace, and to encourage others that are battling their own demons. Most of all, it is to show people that are hurting that there is life out there and it may be challenging at times, but it is also beautiful. Making it even more enjoyable, I have the company of Team RWB teammates everywhere I go to help me and to help each other get our minds and bodies through whatever challenges we face together.

We have worked with veterans who did nothing and through encouragement and training, they are now competing in Ironman events, running ultra-marathons, and most importantly, feeling accepted and improving their lives. Having the veterans staying consistently involved in all activities has been a big success. For more information about Team Red White & Blue or to learn about upcoming events, visit our website at http://teamrwb.org.

CompassMedia
Team Red White and Blue

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