When Commanding Officer Signaller Chad Dobbs served in Iraq he couldn’t maintain the cycling fitness he’d built up back home training for triathlons. There simply was never enough time. When he served in Afghanistan he spent most of his time at work patrolling on foot, so got his exercise in that way.
But coming home, time on the bike started to help manage more than Chad’s fitness. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and an attempted suicide survivor, physical exercise was part of Chad’s way to recover mentally and emotionally from time in war. As Chad explains, you don’t always have to be in the direct line of fire to be traumatised; the constant thought and worry of perceived threat can be every bit as harrowing.
Back in Canberra Chad went and watched a 75km mountain bike event, the Battle of the Beasts. One of their sponsors was Soldier On, which at the time had only very recently formed. Founded in support of returning soldiers who have been physically or psychologically wounded, the organisation resonated with Chad. He set about raising funds for them.
Jerseys were designed and printed, events were entered into and things just took off. Before he knew it, Chad had helped form an offshoot to the organisation, Soldier On Cycling, and he’d personally raised $7,500.
The rides and the activities all played a part in Chad’s own recovery.
“A lot of service men and women won’t talk about their issues as people who’ve not experienced that life just can’t imagine or relate to it. Getting out on the bike with others who understand is a real help. The bike just opens you up a bit to talking more freely and getting thoughts and worries out,” said Chad.
In 2014 Chad joined Soldier On Cycling and Prime Minister Abbott in a Remembrance Ride from Sydney to Canberra, arriving at the National Australian War Memorial in time for ANZAC Day and to present the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with a cross carved from the original Lone Pine. It was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
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But then Chad became ill. He developed diabetes and was set right back as a result. Although not able to continue his work for Soldier On, Chad soon realised that the baton had been passed on. Others were making sure nothing fell through the cracks. His Solider On Cycling baby was all grown up and didn’t need him to survive.
It was a sobering but ultimately positive realisation. As Chad began to manage his diabetes and his strength returned, he realised there was still more he could do. Chad got talking to two other fellow former Soldier On members, Andy and Adam, and the three agreed more work could still be done.
Riding for Recovery was formed, which focuses on giving people with disabilities the opportunity to ride in events. Participants aren’t necessarily veterans, but certainly those who have been negatively affected by service can benefit from Riding for Recovery. The group promotes cycling as an avenue for improved mental health. According to Adam:
“We ride to encourage others to ride. It is all about the bike. We encourage veteran support organisations large and small to work together to promote cycling for mental and physical health. Working together will provide more community linkages and grow stronger networks for veterans and their families. Working together allows greater reach and better efficiency.”
Riding for Recovery will be using next year’s Wild Side 14, a four-day race in Tasmania, as their launch event. This means Chad is not only deep in fundraising and organising, but also training.
“It’s time to feel the pain again! I started out on the trainer doing about 100km a week and now I’ve made it back out on the dirt, and am clocking up 50-60km a week,” said Chad.
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The group has ten riders and an impressively pro-sounding support crew, and they’re all committed to making the event memorable and meaningful.
“We’ll be seeing some of our riders participate on handbikes, which is no mean feat when you check out the course. We want to prove to ourselves, to the riders were helping and to the wider public that the bike can bring a genuine quality to life, both mentally and physically.” Along the journey from Wildside 14, Riding for Recovery has made a series of commitments to a number of people, the most important of which has been to never let a brand get in the way of doing the right thing. This means working alongside anyone willing to support the veteran community through cycling.
We’ll look forward to keeping an eye on this great initiative and how they go in Tassie in January 2016.