The Weekly Fight: Shared pain, collective healing
● By Richard Gaw
As the autumn sun first began to emerge just before the start of the first KSQ Mushroom Cap 13.1 on Oct. 15, 2016 at Kennett Stadium, about one dozen members of the Weekly Fight, a local nonprofit organization created to benefit war veterans and their families, stood still while one member held the American flag high in front of him.
Then they took off, down the crimson lanes of the high school track, leading 700 other runners out into the Kennett Square morning and through the countryside of southern Chester County. It was a partnership of newcomers: a newly-formed group of former veterans, running at a brand-new half marathon and its charitable organization, Run2Shine, Inc.
In 2017, their numbers grew to 20 competitors, and on Nov. 3, as the annual Mushroom Cap 13.1 celebrates its third year, the legion of participants with the Weekly Fight will include 32 veterans and their families.
“Being a part of the Mushroom Cap 13.1 every year continues to create an awareness of who we are,” said retired Marine Sergeant Major Marty Kenny, who started The Weekly Fight in 2016 after one of Kenny's Marines committed suicide after battling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “The whole driver behind what we do is to focus on the positive, to give these veterans opportunities to learn ways of moving forward. I've met several veterans who are amputees, and many of them are incredibly high on life.
“What The Weekly Fight does is to pair them with other veterans, and give them the mindset to understand that if their fellow veteran who has had setbacks in his or her life can still feel this way, that they can learn from that and begin to feel the same way.”
Through weekly workouts – running, calisthenics, weightlifting and strength and agility sessions – as well as meetings, seminars and community events, The Weekly Fight is dedicated to transforming the victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder into the recipients of post-traumatic growth and opportunity.
“Since what we do is team-based training, it's become what I call “shared pain,” Kenny said. “Our workouts take them back to their experiences in the military, and it begins to form bonds between our members. It gives them back the camaraderie that they knew when they were serving their country, and it tells their brothers and sisters, 'I am not only suffering through this workout next to you, but I am suffering with you.'”
What first began with a 10-person workout in January 2016 has now grown to free weekly workouts for veterans, first responders and their families at four locations in Frazer, Oxford, Lancaster and Manayunk – with the strong possibility of linking three additional locations by the end of 2018.
“When I first started I had no idea what I wanted to do or what it was going to be,” Kenny said. “I had guilted an original group into coming, but it eventually morphed to the point where I made it a 501c3 organization, so that it can be used to raise money to help veterans and their families.”
These workouts are now also open to the general public. It's forged a bond between veterans and their communities, Kenny said.
“It's been amazing to see the light bulbs go off with the civilians, “he said. “Being around veterans gives them a vantage point of understanding what they have gone through. While it's great to say 'Thank You' to a veteran for his or her service, it's better to engage with veterans and hear about their journey, and what they're presently doing.”
While the general road map of the annual Mushroom Cap 13.1 has its share of inclines, it does not come close to the many hills and obstacles that stand in the way of groups like The Weekly Fight and the services – and healing – they provide to veterans and their families. The statistics are startling: In the past two years, suicide has outranked war, cancer, heart disease, homicide, transportation accidents and other causes as the leading killer of U.S. veterans, accounting for about three in 10 military deaths each of those two years.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts about 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. In 2013, the VA released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that an average of 22 veterans were taking their own lives every day, or about one veteran every 65 minutes.
“Nobody wants to talk about suicide,” Kenny said. “It's uncomfortable, but if we don't talk about it and bring it out into the open, we don't educate ourselves and others. PTSD is part of our 'fight or flight' mechanism, and people who have never gone through it naturally do not understand what it means.”
An expanding infrastructure and a continually evolving identity forms only a fraction of what The Weekly Fight has become. It's also become a teller of stories of triumph in the face of adversity, none more compelling than the slow journey of Ed Eddinger, a member of The Weekly Fight who had run in the first Mushroom Cap 13.1 in 2016.
In the early hours of Nov. 8, 2016, Eddinger, a veteran and bicycle enthusiast, was struck by a traveling vehicle while riding his bike near Limerick, Pa. The accident left him with only limited cognitive functions and confined him to a wheelchair, but with the help of his brothers and sisters at The Weekly Fight, Eddinger participated at the start of the 2017 Mushroom Cap 13.1, while in a wheelchair.
On Nov. 3, he plans to run the first leg of the annual race.
“For a very long time, Ed was a great marine who wasn't able to figure out things,” Kenny said. “But he continued to push through, and people kept prodding him to move forward, and by last year, he was working with us on a part-time basis.
“Ed is recovering remarkably and working out in an effort to get back in the shape he was in. It's been amazing to see him go from a hospital bed to where he is now.”
Getting back to the Mushroom Cap 13.1 has become Eddinger's mission, Kenny said, and it's one of 32 private – and shared – missions that will approach the starting line on Nov. 3.
To learn more about The Weekly Fight, visit www.theweeklyfight.org, or visit on Facebook.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.