Tony Hofmann says he has one goal: to put himself out of a job by making PTSD a thing of the past.
“But we’re a long way from that,” he said.
The 51-year-old retired army colonel works with Warriors Ascent, an organization that helps veterans and first responders cope with post-traumatic stress using holistic techniques that target the mind, body, and soul.
This past Saturday, Hofmann and his team of 10, made up of military personnel and civilian family and friends, tackled the Leadville Trail Marathon, a high-altitude 26.2-mile trail race that winds through one of the highest incorporated cities in America, with an elevation of 10,152 feet, and its highest point peaking at 13,185 feet. The trail courses through an old mining district, with terrain varying from flat paved dirt roads to rocky slopes.
Hofmann, a public works engineer in Kansas City, Missouri, has been running since 1990. He has since completed 32 marathons and ran the Boston Marathon 10 times. He said he partnered with Warriors Ascent after seeing the success of the program and knew running could fit into the message.
The Warriors Ascent program features a five-day “Academy of Healing,” where members go through mental and physical training and group therapy. It is rooted in ancient warrior methods that combine physical and mental training.
Despite the organization being only three years old, the results have had a huge success rate, with all of the program’s applicants rating the academy as 100 percent effective and highly recommending the program to others with PTSD.
And with June being recently designated PTSD Awareness Month, Hofmann said the marathon holds timely significance at a time when veteran suicides are high.
“Our goal this year was to raise funds to help 15 veterans and first responders to go through the Warriors Ascent program,” Hofmann said. “The program teaches them mindfulness, proper nutrition, meditation, and really helps them train those with post-traumatic stress to overcome it.”
But the program’s real strength, Hofmann said, comes from the support network it provides to those who are suffering from PTSD. “It’s not just a single effort, like, okay you go through this Academy of Healing and now you’re on your own,” Hofmann says. “It’s a community of support that mimics the ancient warrior tradition of teamwork.”
Hoffman extends these teachings to training his runners. To prepare his team for the race, he sent out a 16-week training schedule. Most of the group members are from out of state, so he encouraged them to train on trails when they could and checked in weekly on everyone’s progress via phone.
Hofmann said the reason for picking a tough trail like Leadville is it helps drive home the importance of teamwork.
Daniel Keyser, a 30-year-old veteran from Alabama who has deployed twice to Afghanistan, has suffered with PTSD for over four years. Keyser, who used running to stay in shape before running his first marathon with Hoffman three years ago, completed the Leadville Trail Marathon on Saturday with the group. He says he appreciates how Hoffman’s marathon training mirrored the values of Warriors Ascent.
“The stuff that I did to try and overcome my post-traumatic stress and work through it was all disjointed. I did a lot of it on my own,” Keyser said. “Warriors Ascent brings it all together making it so much easier for folks struggling from PTSD to have the access to care. I wish I had known about it earlier when I was at the height of my trauma.”
And at the race, the mission was to get all 10 participants through the miles, together.
“We start and finish as a team. We don’t have 10 individuals that just go out and finish on their own,” Hofmann said. “Endurance and teamwork are linked to the overall mission of helping people overcome their post-traumatic stress.”
This article first appeared on Runner's World.