Local veteran Andrew Sims began cycling 22 miles in 22 days on Veterans Day to bring awareness to the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Sims began the regimen along the same route to signify the repetitive nature of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a difficult, climbing route, one that makes his legs burn.
“The monotony of doing that same route over and over. You know, it’s the same story that we veterans get caught in over and over,” Sims said. “I want to tell veterans that it’s okay to ask for help”
Sims will conclude “22 for 22” on Saturday, with wheels down at 12:30 p.m. at Beard Elementary School, 8725 Sonoma Pkwy, in Helotes. The ride will finish at Hills and Dales Ice House, 15403 White Fawn Dr. around 2 p.m.
Sims served in the Army from 2006 to 2013 and retired as a staff sergeant. During that time he was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent about 40 months in combat theater.
His experience in Afghanistan was so troubling that, he said, he and many of those in his unit ultimately left the military. When Sims returned home to the U.S., he noticed changes in his own behavior.
“Afghanistan was just kind of a pivotal point,” he said. “I'm normally in a really great mood. I came back from Afghanistan just not quite like that. Just sleeping very little. I would be lucky to sleep four to -five hours a night. I was super irritable.”
Sims had recurring nightmares about two incidents he faced during deployment. Their frequency drove him to desperation.
“These one or two repetitive events are, sadly, what’s causing folks to end up taking their lives,” Sims said. “It’s not the release of not wanting to be here or not wanting to be around family. It’s ‘I need some sort of release from this scenario that just keeps eating away at me.’ ”
With the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs and his family, Sims ultimately determined he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was as a low place in life,” said the husband and father of two. “I felt stuck in my job and I couldn’t run like I did when I was active duty. All the deployments caught up to me.”
But when Sims’ wife bought him a bike, he found some respite.
“The first big 40 or 50 mile ride I did, it was insanely difficult. At the end of it, I was exhausted, but refreshed,” he said. “Something about that left-right pedal just got my mind on a good clear path for the day.”
Since that time, Sims continued with cycling, and has seen positive results in more than one area of his life.
“My mental health got better and I started losing weight,” he said. “I think that if cycling can save my life, it can save another vet.”
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