WOODS CROSS — A Utah veteran who fought two tours in Iraq and came home with serious physical and mental battle wounds will take part in a prestigious three-day bike ride.
Retired Sgt. Josh Hansen was selected as one of 16 servicemen and women wounded in the war on terror to join former President George W. Bush for the W100K, a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride. Hansen was chosen, in part, for all the work he has done to help veterans with special needs.
"Helping other people just puts a spark in your life,” Hansen said. He knows that now but did not think that way when he came home from war.
"After getting injured in the war, I went into massive depression,” he said. “I had to build myself up."
Hansen was an IED hunter in support of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Expeditionary Forces in and around Fallujah, according to his biography on the W100K website. During his second tour, his vehicle sustained eight direct hits by IEDs, which caused him multiple injuries over a seven-month period before he was flown out of Iraq on March 15, 2007.
He had a traumatic brain injury, and knee, back and neck injuries, and he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hansen got help at the Department of Veterans Affairs and discovered Wasatch Adaptive Sports based at Snowbird. The company offers outdoor recreational and social activities for veterans coping with military-related physical, cognitive and emotional difficulties. According to its website, the goal is to promote healing and well-being while restoring a veteran’s sense of connection with the outdoors.
The exercise helped him recapture his spirit for life, and now he works to share that healing power with other vets.
“Once you start showing them others that are doing it, then it gives them that drive. ‘Wow that guy has a prosthetic leg and he’s mountain-biking,’” Hansen said. “We like everyone to have fun and enjoy it. The camaraderie of it is unreal. The same kind of brotherhood they felt in the service.”
The best thing for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is getting out and doing things, he said.
"Honestly, it's up to the veteran himself. It was up to me to say, ‘OK, I'm going to do this. I'm going to better my life, I'm going to get healthy again.’"
Hansen lost six of his soldiers in battle and four more to suicide at home.
"My soldiers are taking their own lives, and I'm sitting at home doing nothing with mine,” he said. “I need to do something to get out and start helping my soldiers."
Because of that work, Bush invited him to ride with 15 other vets in the fourth annual W100K in Crawford, Texas, May 1-3. It’s part of the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative that honors the service and sacrifice of post-9/11 veterans and military families. The George W. Bush Institute says the event highlights the bravery and sacrifice of warriors and recognizes organizations that support America’s heroes.
Hansen trains with his wife of 20 years, Melissa, and Laura Cantin of Wasatch Adaptive Sports, who will also ride with the president.
“They get out, they start exercising, they relax, they start to have some fun in their lives. It’s very healing.” Cantin said. "There are still so many people out there that still need us to reach out, and that's what Josh does.”
"I think slowing down and helping others is the best thing in life,” he said, and the best therapy for his own wounds.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company