“Project Hero”, A Cycling Program at Northern Arizona VA Health Care System – Helping Veterans & First Responders

by Mary Dillinger, Public Affairs Officer, NAVAHCS

Prescott is the HUB for Project Hero Arizona. In fact, Prescott is the only location in Arizona with a Project Hero Program. Project Hero is a cycling group for Veterans and First Responders. Originally founded in 2008, it is a groundbreaking national non-profit organization dedicated to helping Veterans and First Responders affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). It assists with rehabilitation, recovery, and resilience, increasing awareness about PTSD and TBI.

A team of Northern Arizona VA Health Care System (NAVAHCS) employees, spearheaded by Sean Hankison, a Marine Corps Veteran and Vocational Counselor established the Project Hero Prescott HUB. With the full support of the NAVAHCS Leadership Team, Sean was able to get this project up and running. Several employee Veterans have joined the program.

Sean was looking for a way to help Veterans outside of the usual methods. He heard about the national Project Hero Program and he did some research to find out if it would be possible to have a location right here in Prescott. Sean spent a lot of his own time putting together the program here in Prescott and getting it off the ground. Currently Project Hero HUB Prescott has over a dozen members and is growing. Several of the members are not your typical “bike riders” and they were not sure about the program, but after they met Sean, went on a ride and learned more about it, they were hooked.

NAVAHCS Voluntary Service is receiving donations like bikes, helmets, water bottles and money to assist the program and the members. Some of the Veterans who want to join the program do not own a bike and do not have the funds to purchase a new bike. Our incredibly supportive community has stepped up and donated these items so Veterans can participate in this great program.

Project Hero HUB Prescott members meet three times a week for group rides and they also participate in “Ride 2 Recovery” National Events throughout the year. The rides throughout the week are for beginners and experienced alike. Last month the group completed a 20 mile ride at the Grand Canyon.  The next national ride is on November 9 in Las Vegas. It is an Honor Ride for 19, 43 or 63 miles. Project Hero HUB Prescott is raising money for the local Veterans to be able to participate. Some riders are more advanced, and they can handle the longer rides and others stick with the shorter weekly rides. This program is designed to assist Veterans and First Responders who ride at their own pace.

Sean has been working to generate community involvement. Bike Prescott Cycling Club was happy to assist Project Hero HUB Prescott. Tana Brown, President of Bike Prescott joins Sean and the group on the weekly rides and has donated services and supplies to the program. Project Hero HUB Prescott also has adaptive bikes. There are hand cycle and recumbent bikes available.

A Navy Veteran, Clint Lafferty, spoke with his Primary Care Team about ways to get healthy, and they had mentioned Project Hero. He needed a safe way to lose weight that would not cause more damage to his knees. Bike riding is an excellent option as it is a cardio exercise with the bonus of camaraderie with fellow Veterans and a supportive team. Clint was skeptical at first, however, he is now enjoying himself as the program has improved his communication and people skills, Clint states, “if you are looking for low impact, high intensity, this is the way to go,” and he “highly recommends other Veterans to join this group too”.

NAVAHCS Domiciliary Chief, Dr. Chris Hummel says, “Project Hero was developed to help address the rising incidence of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other injuries to achieve rehabilitation, recovery and resilience in their daily lives.” A two-year Georgetown University study showed significant improvement on measures of depression, anxiety, self-esteem, loneliness, sense of purpose, and resilience. “Project Hero has observed first hand Veterans accomplishing just these improvements from participation in addition to learning a life-long activity that improves their overall health and wellness.”

Sean is so appreciative of the support from the Prescott community, Veterans and First Responders. He emphasizes how important mental health is to your physical health and he takes pride in being able to help people deal, cope and work out some of their issues and concerns on the ride with their team. There are people as young as teenagers and others in their late 80’s who can and have benefited from joining Project Hero.

If you are interested in the program or want to learn more, please visit facebook.com/groups/ProjectHeroHUBPrescott.