WHITE CITY — After returning home from the Vietnam War at the age of 19, Eagle Point resident Curtis Hubbell struggled with the fallout from post-traumatic stress disorder. That fallout included four decades of alcoholism, isolation and anger, brought on in part by "triggers" that would cause everyday activities to remind him of a war that claimed the lives of his friends and fellow soldiers.
He recalls trying to sleep each night while hearing the rumble of planes departing the nearby airport in Medford, sounding "like an awful lot of war planes flying overhead, dropping bombs and napalm."
Four years after he began his own road to wellness, Hubbell, now 64, boarded a plane recently to participate as one of eight veterans from the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics in a national pilot program geared at health and wellness for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Open to an inaugural group of four dozen veterans from around the U.S., the event was held at the world-renowned Spire Institute, an Olympic-caliber training facility in Geneva, Ohio. (www.spireinstitute.org). The program is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Olympics Committee.
The five-day event was designed to encourage sports participation, wellness and nutrition for veterans suffering the effects of PTSD.
A 750,000-square-foot facility of playing fields, tracks, pools and more, the training space hosted veterans ranging in age from 20 to 68. It offered them the opportunity to try different activities as well as providing ideas on nutrition and more modern wellness activities.
Liz Cravens, a therapist for the PTSD Specialty Center for the Veterans Affairs facility in White City, said the trip aimed to show the veterans the connection between a healthy, active lifestyle and overall emotional wellness.
"It was just amazing to watch the transformation during the four or five days," she said.
"The first few days everyone was pretty quiet and closed off. By day three, they were sharing stories and everyone was participating."
Hubbell laughed as he recounted trying yoga, which despite "being pretty far outside my box, actually did clear my mind."
Hubbell came in contact with the SORCC facility, the former V.A. Domiciliary that's still often called the Dom, after he was given a choice about four years ago between going to prison or getting help. He chose to seek help, but it was a decision decades in the making.
"I enlisted when I was 17, spent my 18th birthday in Vietnam and was back home by 19 being spit on," Hubbell said.
"When I decided I couldn't fight everybody off, I wanted to take them on one by one. I got sick of the drunk tank and jail, so I sold my house and bought a fifth-wheel and traveled around."
But he was unable to fight PTSD on his own and he found himself faced with the possibility of prison after being removed from his fifth-wheel by a S.W.A.T. team.
Hubbell's experiences will help other local vets: Earlier this month he was one of a number of veterans to participate in a program to help local police learn how best to respond to veterans suffering from PTSD.
A now clean and sober Hubbell, who admits the plane ride and even taking the time to tell his own story would have been impossible only a few short years ago, is eager to "finally live life."
"Just when I think I'm good and I can't get any better or recover any more than I have, it gets a little better," he said.
"I'm ready for this new world. I want what's left of my life. Some people who have had to fight for this freedom, we have had to fight for an awful long time. For 43 years, I've carried this load and I'm finally learning how to breathe."
The act of flying East, after circling over the place he calls home, was a milestone in itself.
"I used to wake up at night and it would really bring back those old memories when I heard the planes flying over. I would know they weren't dropping bombs but hearing them brought back some bad memories," he said.
"When I got back from Ohio and the planes went over the house, suddenly it didn't bother me anymore and I didn't think about the bombs.
"It's like I had replaced the memory with picturing us going out to Ohio and getting to have this great experience."
For more on the program, see www.va.gov/adaptivesports.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.