Blogged Down On Twitter #VeteranSuicide

I’m a somewhat prolific (ab)user of Twitter.  It’s a place where I am able to engage with a much wider audience about Australian veteran issues than I can on Facebook and other social and traditional media channels.  It is also a good place to complain about iiNet’s appalling service in Canberra.

Over the past several days I have had times where the black dog has started barking behind me.  I’ve resisted the urge to acknowledge it’s reappearance in my life, but with it being Mental Health Awareness Week, this has been quite difficult.  I have spent a lot of time trying to articulate my feelings, opinions and thoughts on veteran mental health support and veteran suicide into a single blog post.

The plan was to address the serious concerns I and many others have regarding the Australian Defence Force’s mental health support policies and the support avenues available to servicepersons once they discharge and begin re-integration into civilian society and life.  I found I was unable to focus enough to write anything close be being coherent with a clear narrative.  Instead after my Wife and child were fast asleep last night; I was able to communicate what I wanted to share via Twitter in 140 characters or less – give or take 16 tweets.

For those that want to read my SMS sized (over)share, here it is…


https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520163159173107712

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520163823383113728

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520164311004499968

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520164843970502657

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520165343935741952

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520165955503022080

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520166418495463424

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520167165345804288

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520167852989362177

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520168708224737280

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520169354181111808

Battle Of The Beasts 2013 – Wrap Up Video

A brief video of my journey through the Battle of the Beasts so far.

Battle Of The Beasts 2013 Wrap Up

The lead up to this years Battle of the Beasts was an enormous challenge for me.  My primary aim was about raising awareness and fundraising for Soldier On; of which I increased my efforts ten-fold from last year.  I spent a good 6 months fundraising and helping to raise the profile of Soldier On before I even thought about how I was going to tackle a huge weekend of riding.

The Fundraising
I’ve written at length about why I ride for Soldier On, so I’ll skip that part.  In early April this year I approached Soldier On about producing a cycling jersey that I could wear while commuting, training and racing.

BOTB 13 035.:Soldier On at the Battle of the Beasts 2013:.

While Soldier On had a fairly comprehensive list of merchandise the one thing they didn’t have was a cycling jersey; and I figured the running shirt I wore last year wasn’t going to cut it for comfort and practicality.  So with the help of Meredith and John from Soldier On we came up with a design and had a set of jerseys made by On The Go Sports.

SG020.:Soldier On Jersey at the Scott 25hr:.

In just a few weeks of wearing the jersey in Canberra I had drummed up enough interest about my riding and Soldier On that it was time to start a Facebook page to get the word out to a wider audience.  So suddenly I was a mediocre mountain biker representing a charity whose mission it is to better the lives of wounded servicemen, servicewomen and their families.

It took me quite a while to realise that I was in fact one of these Soldiers that Soldier On aims to help.  And each and every-time I put on the jersey I was showing the public and other veterans that you can empower yourself with something as simple as riding a bike.

When it came time to register for the Battle of the Beasts, I signed up for both days of riding; the 42km Flowing Beast and the 72km The Beast.  The decision to ride both races was an easy one; I rode one race last year, so this year it was only natural that I would ride two races.  With the ongoing support from Luke and Dan from Beast-Worx, and John, Meredith and Anna from Soldier On; I started my 2013 fundraising campaign.

Regular updates on this Blog, Facebook, my fundraising page and Twitter became the norm.  Soon I was attracting “likes” and “followers” from as far away as the USA and slowly the donations started to trickle in.

I wanted to branch out more this year so I contacted a number of Defence-aligned companies and local Canberra businesses.  Out of the 27 companies/businesses I contacted only stepped up and helped out.  Pushys Bike Warehouse at Fyshwick supported me by providing awesome deals on products in store that kept my bike rolling.

Of the other companies/businesses only 6 replied; with 2 of the replies bordering on offensive to not only my request for support but to all Veterans of Australia.

The Lead Up Training
From the moment I decided to ride The Beast again I knew I would have to actually train for this years race.  Last year I lost almost 7kg through sweating, vomiting and post race bleeding from the kidneys (clearly my hydration/nutrition plan was a failure).

BOTB 048.:Post Beast 2012:.

Despite riding to work and racing quite regularly I knew I would have to put more kilometres of dirt under the tyres with more emphasis on climbing.  So I started a 4 month training regime; and posted my weekly training updates on this blog.  As the weeks turned to days and then to hours before the first race of the Battle of the Beasts weekend; I knew I was fitter and more mentally prepared for this years event.

The Preparation
My prep was simple; working bike, working body and enough fuel to keep that body going.  I had spent a lot of time working out what was the best way for me to keep hydrated and fuelled through a lot of trial and error.  I sat down the day before the Flowing Beast and mapped out a plan for both days of riding; and I’m very happy to say I stuck to the plan for The Beast.

The Flowing Beast on the other hand…well I’ll get to that soon.

The Flowing Beast – Saturday 19 October 2013
First of all I didn’t intend to actually race the 42km course.  With the Beast the next day and being fairly warm and sunny; I thought it best if I just pedalled around the course for two laps and saved my legs for the next day.

BOTB 13 047.:Drumming on the bars waiting for the race start:.

BOTB 13 052.:And we’re off for the Flowing Beast:.

Well the original plan went out the window as soon as I found myself passing the majority of the field on the first fire-road climb.  Somehow I was in the lead pack just behind the Dynamic Motivation crew.   As we entered the first lot of singletrack I back off a bit and let a few riders pass; but I soon chased them back down as we entered the second half of the 21km course.

BOTB 13 057.:Brettski was out taking photos on the course… Pushing up the hill lap 1:.

As I headed through transition and swapped out bottles I found myself alone as I started the climbs of the first half of the course.  I kept looking behind me and anticipated the inevitable call of “track” signalling a faster rider was bearing down on me.  For the first time in a race ever, this didn’t happen.  In fact I started passing more and more riders as the end of the race drew closer.

BOTB 13 065.:Brettski was out taking photos on the course… A little more pain this time on lap 2:.

I knew I wasn’t going to catch the elite riders but I also knew I was going to post a good time so I pushed on and ended up catching the race sweep before changing to the big ring and powering up the final climb and towards the finish line.

BOTB 13 060 BOTB 13 062.Crossing the finish line:.

By the end of the race I had ridden 44.2km in 2hr39min.  An effort I was very happy with; but something I would undoubtedly regret the next day when my legs would start screaming at me.

Something I’ve been doing lately is taking before and after race photos.  Below is my before and afters of the Flowing Beast; I lost 2.7kg during the days riding.

BOTB 13 045.:Before the race:.

BOTB 13 063.:After the race:.

The Beast – Sunday 20 October 2013
Fizz from The Berm said of last years race: “there are those that have done the Beast event, and those that have not“.  To be honest he is right.

Many riders complained before last years race that 72km on a fire-road was too easy.  Well considering the number of DNF’s for the race was in double figures I wasn’t surprised to hear the same people complain that it was too hard by the end of race day.

I wasn’t physically or mentally prepared for last years race but I finished and that was something I was incredibly proud of.  Along with finishing the race I raised $5’702 for Soldier On; which made the blood, sweat and tears worth it.  As I detailed in my 2012 wrap up it was the hardest thing I had done physically outside of the Army.

The day started with the long drive out to Caloola Farm and re-registration.  I had left my race plate on my bike from the previous day and considering it was attached to the roof of my car; it didn’t survive the drive home.

I attached the new race plate to Kate and set out to mingle with some of the other riders and the Soldier On crew.

With the bike ready, knicks and jersey on it was time for the pre-race brief from Beast-Worx Luke.  Along with the obligatory course info and safety brief; Luke called me out in front of the other riders and explained about Soldier On and introduced me and spoke briefly about my fundraising efforts.

BOTB 13 072.:Out the front with Luke:.

Minutes later we were lined up near the start point.  Last years Beast’s Jeremy Ross and Anne Broadbent soon headed off with the elite pack chasing a few minutes later.

BOTB 13 077.:The start line:.

After the elites had crossed the first creek the rest of the pack headed off.  I had a plan committed to memory; I had broken the course down to 15km sections with an average speed and time-frame to achieve.

BOTB 13 084 BOTB 13 085.:I started with Adam “Rocket” Rolls before he powered off into the distance:.

Even after riding the Flowing Beast the day before I felt somewhat fresh and watched as the kilometres started increasing on my GPS.  With a different bike, sans Camelback and with a lower temperature and cloud cover this year; I was soon reaching checkpoint after checkpoint and riding up climbs I walked the year before.  On the steep climbs I did walk; I only dismounted when my speed dropped lower than I could walk pushing the bike.

With just two bottles on board I monitored my fluid intake carefully.  Despite the lower temperatures I kept to my plan and consumed food and water to plan and stopped at each checkpoint to refill my water.  While riding with last years riding-buddy Argo; I was making good time and resisted the temptation to push out.

Last year Argo took the lead and I followed him; without his encouragement I doubt I would have finished.  But this year I had to tackle this course on my own; I needed to tame The Beast solo and soon I found myself climbing the steep inclines and braving the steep declines by myself.

I was methodical in sticking with my riding plan and didn’t alter from it until the final 8km of the course.  After getting up Mt Soldier On by jogging to each water bar, resting for a count of ten and then repeating.  I was soon on the way to the finish line.  I had a moment of pure elation when I rode on the track named after me, “Dobbsie’s Run”, and screamed out a “F**k yeah!” for all the valley to hear.

I sped down the hill to the final checkpoint and refilled both of my bottles with the intention of throwing my riding plan to the wayside.  I had a time-frame I wanted to finish in and I was nearing the start of that bracket.  So I zipped up my jersey, changed into the big ring and started pushing to the end.

For the next 7km I didn’t see or hear another rider.  I ignored my GPS and pushed past my intended speed and soon I could see the main fire-road that would take me back to the event centre and the finish line.  Soon the last few kilometres disappeared, I hit the grass and rode under the finish line banner to end The Battle Of The Beasts for 2013.

BOTB 13 088 BOTB 13 089 BOTB 13 090.:And just like that, it was over:.

It was a good feeling to finish and an even better feeling to know I wasn’t completely spent and had shaved off over an hour off of my time from the previous year.

image.:Before the Beast:.

image.:After the Beast:.

image.:After the first bit of real feed post race:.

The Wrap Up
I’ve read a few race reviews and wrap ups from other riders since the race finished. While most riders get the point of the race some others don’t seem to. It is not designed to be a test of endurance to rival the harsh conditions that servicemen and servicewomen face on deployment. If that was the case there would be the ever present risk of improvised explosive devices, indirect fire, small arms fire and multitude of other dangers that are thrown at our men and women in uniform. And believe me; no one that has ever experienced this would like to see others subjected to it.

The is a race designed to test you both physically and mentally by giving you an opportunity to tackle an incredibly difficult ride and raise much needed funds for Solider On. By completing The Beast you achieve what many others won’t attempt; you tame Your Beast. This race is designed to try and break you mentally, this race wants you to fail, and this race puts climbs in front of you that many people wouldn’t even consider riding. But by crossing that finish line you achieve what the Beast-Worx team wanted you to experience; you found that little something deep within that you rarely let out; you pushed through the pain and emotion and achieved your goal.

This is why we choose to ride The Beast; not because it is easy; but because it is difficult and because we need to test ourselves to be better.

New Posters For My Fundraising!

BOTB Poster Cover PhotoV2 BOTB PosterV2 BOTB PosterV3

Battle Of The Beasts – Update #3

Well it’s been a big week for my fundraising. After a disappointing few weeks with trying to get more exposure for the upcoming ride I had some promising leads with securing some local media interviews for radio (thank you Jeff C!) and a couple of Canberra’s newspapers.

The donations have been steady, but the Facebook ‘sharing’ and Twitter ‘retweets’ have been very active; which helps raise awareness for Soldier On. I even managed to set up a Facebook Page: Riding For Soldier On – Doing My Part For Australia’s Wounded Warriors to help keep my Facebook friends and Twitter followers up to date.

From a training perspective I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the bike and should top 200km by the end of the week. I’m not quite 100% with my pec and shoulder but from a fitness and endurance perspective I am pretty close to being at my pre-injury standard. And most importantly, after a taking a pretty big confidence hit courtesy of an overzealous Government Department; I’m feeling better and determined to work just as hard and keep rocking the apple cart.

During the week I had an article about my fundraising published in the Australian Army News. This is great for exposure within the ADF and Australian Army in particular and will hopefully be noticed by some of the Senior Ranks. Maybe they will start to realise that a handful of dedicated individuals (mostly ex-Soldiers living with PTSD) do more work for Veterans Support Services and PTSD education than they do sitting in their ivory towers dismissing mental health issues among the ‘enlisted men’ </END RANT>.

Army News Jpeg
$1’815 has been raised so far and with three months to go there is plenty of time to better last years amount.

PLEASE GO HERE TO DONATE: http://beast-worx.gofundraise.com.au/page/chaddobbsBOTB13

Battle Of The Beasts – Update #2

It seems my updates are now a tri-weekly occurrence.   So three weeks after the inaugural Battle Of The Beasts Update.  I present to you Update #2.

The fundraising for Soldier On and raising awareness for veterans support services has been going quite well after a few hiccups.  I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit naive with my requests for industry and business support.  I had approached several Defence related companies and numerous local Canberra businesses for support and sponsorship. Because I believe in this cause so much and understand the good it does for so many I was incredibly dejected at the amount of rejections I was receiving.

Out of the sixteen requests I submitted I have received eleven rejections and five no replies.  I find it incredibly difficult to understand how a business which makes hundreds of millions of dollars from Defence contracts cannot donate money to charity.  I understand that I am one fundraiser, a very small cog in a very large machine, however some of these companies DO NOT DONATE ANY MONEY TO THE DEFENCE COMMUNITY.  OK rant over and I’ll move on!

I’m still hopeful of hearing back from some of the local Canberra businesses and have been given some advice from friends that have done this sort of thing before.  Social media is really helping especially friends sharing on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.  There are a lot of people out there that support our wounded veterans.

To date $1’665 has been raised thanks to some very generous friends.  I need to thank Craig Passante for his massive $500 donation.  Craig has been very supportive of my fundraising this year and last year and continues to be a very strong role model for young veterans like ourselves.

So with a little over three months to go before The Battle Of The Beasts, I’ve got a fair bit of work to do to reach my goal of $6’000.  I’ve got a few media stories and interviews in the works for newspapers, MTB magazines and hopefully TV & radio if things go to plan.

Some keen eyed readers would have noticed I’ve started a training regime working up to the BOTB in October.  Last year I rode the event not knowing what was ahead of me and to be honest I was overwhelmed physically and mentally by the enormity of the ride.  Since last years race I’ve been able to complete a couple of big endurance races with relative ease.

Through trial and error I have worked out with the right nutrition and hydration plan I am quite capable over long distances on the bike.  This year I aim to be fitter and better prepared for the challenges I will face during the climb-heavy race.  While I will never win a race of this magnitude I want to race against myself.  I have a few on course goals I want to achieve and a few people I really want to leave in my wake.

So I am juggling not only my home life, upcoming Wedding, work, fundraising and veteran’s advocacy; I am slowly working my body into what I need it to be to tackle the Namadgi ranges for a second time.  I will need to be better at endurance climbing and able to focus my mind on the ride and not on the pain and kilometres remaining in front of me.

So before the Battle Of The Beasts I have a few CORC XC races, countless commutes and training rides; and a couple of 3hr XC races to keep me honest.  And as always I will be proudly wearing not only my Soldier On jersey but also my team kit displaying my beloved The Berm name and logo.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me on and off the bike.  I’ve had a few big set backs with the fundraising and would like to acknowledge a couple of people that have been a huge help: Carly, Scotty, Nat P, Dylan H, Mel C, Argo, Ben H, Nigel J, Roger H and Pete A.  These are the people that have given me invaluable advice and kept me focused on the big picture.  Thank you!

CORC XC Rd 3 #01

Rocking my Soldier On jersey at Round 3 of the CORC XC Series

The Way Forward – Education & Improvement

When serving in the Australian Defence Force, in particular the Australian Army, it is well known that speaking up and asking for help with any form of mental illness; be it depression, PTSD or anxiety is frowned upon.  While the ADF will openly claim in the media it is supportive of all struggling servicemen and servicewomen the truth is: asking for help is a guaranteed way to stall or even end your career in uniform.  There are exceptions to this and that involves extremely supportive units that have a long history with dealing with members that have been wounded or are living with a mental illness.

I’ve written about my depression and anxiety previously on my blog.  For years I hid the truth from all but my family and closest friends; and even then I wasn’t completely forthcoming.  One of the reasons I chose to be so open about my experiences, difficulties and struggles was so that others would know that they are not alone.

On two occasions in two different units I approached the senior Soldier and asked for help.  Both times I was rebutted and told to “harden the fuck up” and “get out if you can’t handle it” respectively.  The main role of this position is Soldier’s welfare.  These two members failed me and numerous others that approached them for assistance in their time of need.  I still harbour a great deal of resentment to these people and while my career stalled for a period of time; theirs flourished and my protests over their inaction fell on deaf ears.

The ADF was going through a period of transition with it’s mental health initiatives and sadly I and others from this time fell through the cracks and decided that separation from the ADF was the best way to escape the increasing bureaucracy and feeling of helplessness.  My experience with this issue is not uncommon, but the system and processes in place are getting better.

It is for this reason I am so passionate about the welfare of this new generation of veterans that have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This week the Department of Veterans Affairs contacted me after my my post regarding my experiences with them started trending on Twitter.  They admit things need to improve and they are working on it and need people who are willing to speak up about the problems in order to identify the shortfalls and improve the current processes.

If things don’t rapidly improve Australia will start experiencing what the USA is currently dealing with; the increase of returned veterans committing suicide.  In just over six months, seventeen returned Australian veterans have killed themselves.  I served with three of these young soldiers and that saddens and angers me greatly.  I ponder over what drove them to such despair and helplessness that to them the only solution was the most final.

Blame for these deaths cannot be placed on any one person, Unit, Service or Government Department.  I would like nothing more than to point the finger at someone and scream that they have blood on their hands.  But this will not happen.  There is however a solution; and it is a very simple one.  Education and Improvement.

Education of not only the support services available to returned veterans but also education for the wider public that these people need their support and that there is no shame attached to mental illness.

Improvement is needed in both the attitude of the people of Australia and Government Departments and improvement in the services available to returned veterans.

Time is needed for these changes to occur but with the Afghanistan campaign drawing to a close and more than a decade passing since Australians in uniform first stepped foot in the Middle East; time is running out.  Action is needed sooner rather than later to stem the leak before the dam wall breaks and the already struggling system cannot cope with the flood of demand.