By Marc Erich Wolf, edited by Jim Luce.
New York, N.Y. I support a number of non-profit organizations supporting veterans, but Achilles International “gets me” every time. These people know how to have fun! As a tri-athlete myself, I know the commitment it takes, the hours, the challenges, the rewards. For over thirty five years, Dick Traum founder of what was originally “The Achilles Track Club,” has grown Achilles International into one of the most successful and inspiring non-profits on the planet.
It’s not surprising. Dick Traum is not a guy who gives up easily. In 1976, an above the knee amputee, Dick found himself approaching middle age and out of shape. After joining a local YMCA, Dick began running – small distances at first and then, eventually several miles.
Within a year, Dick became the first amputee to run the New York City Marathon. In 1983, seeking to provide that same opportunity to other people with disabilities, Dick created the Achilles Track Club, now called Achilles International.
According to the Achilles International website:
Today, this non-profit organization has chapters and members in over 65 locations within the United States and abroad. Every day, in parks, gyms, and tracks all over the world, Achilles provides athletes with disabilities with a community of support. Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners come together to train in an environment of support and community. Within this community, runners gain measurable physical strength and build confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often transfers to other parts of their life.
My work with Achilles supports their “Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans,” sponsoring running programs and marathon opportunities to disabled vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I train with them, I run with them. The Freedom Team was established in 2004, welcoming veterans coming back from Operation Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom without limbs.
Program participants receive training as well as use of specialized adaptive devices, including hand-crank bikes and chairs. While the goal is to enter and complete a marathon, the program stresses “achievable accomplishment,” encouraging participants to begin by training for a less-demanding competition, such as the organization’s signature annual five-mile “Hope and Possibility” race.
“After Freedom Team members leave the hospital, we encourage them to continue the program and their physical and emotional healing process,” Dick Traum explains. “These guys and gals are so inspiring, so committed – true athletes, true warriors.”
Mr. Traum went on to explain: “What we are doing is providing these athletes three things: (1) the opportunity to join a group and enjoy the camaraderie, (2) the opportunity to achieve, and (3) a goal. What happens is when someone achieves a goal, like a marathon, they feel good. Then they ask the questions, ‘What next, what could I do better, what goal should I set?’”
“We are helping them by addicting them to achievement with something so inspiring such as success, which leads to success in other parts of life,” Mr. Traum said. “Being a part of a group to do something difficult leads people to success. If you go in to the Army, it’s like your joining a fraternity; and the reason people join is to become part of a cohesive group. Wounded veterans who join a group like Achilles have the opportunity of a goal. They do it, they celebrate and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Marc Erich Wolf is a former U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and continues his service in the reserves. Marc is a development executive for the UJA-Federation of New York and a Veterans Outreach Coordinator for The Mission Continues. Marc will be publishing on “Connecting Goodness” as it relates to non-profit organizations and inspiring individuals who are addressing the needs of military veterans coming home, in the U.S. and abroad. Marc is currently working on his first book, “From Frontline to Frontlines,” is a Luce Foundation Global Advisor, and the senior contributor to The Stewardship Report on issues of war, peace, veterans, post-conflict resolution, and leadership in the humanitarian and philanthropic worlds.
Marc Wolf’s Series From Frontline to Frontlines – Veterans Continue Their ServiceAchilles Foundation: The Sprint, The Spirit & The Freedom Team
Operation Resurrection & Resurrecting Lives: From Movie to Movement
Thanks to Rafael Burgos for technical assistance.
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