Record amount raised at Ride for Heroes

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BRATTLEBORO — Before the eighth annual Ride for Heroes at the Brattleboro Retreat kicked off on Saturday morning, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark, the keynote speaker, spoke about how one day, 15 months ago, he drove to the Retreat with a handgun in his glove compartment.

"People don't seek help because they're worried what other people are going to say about them," he said. After suffering from a concussion on the job, Clark was eventually diagnosed with major depression with insomnia and suicidal ideation.

Clark isn't ashamed that he sought help, and encouraged people in similar situations to stand up for themselves.

"I don't care what other people say about me. I know who I am and I know what happened to me, and I know the help that I got."

Before becoming the sheriff for Windham County, Clark was the police chief in Bellows Falls and before that, a member of the Dover Police Department and a trooper with the Vermont State Police. Clark also spent 20 years in the National Guard, with a year as an assistant brigade engineer in Afghanistan in 2010.

Some of the people he knows think that not being able control your own emotions makes a person weak. But, he said, everyone keeps telling him he's strong for having gone through what he did. "Well am I weak or am I strong? I can't be both," he joked.

Clark thinks many of the men and women in emergency service work don't actively seek treatment because of the stigma related to mental health. Mental health isn't taken as seriously by the general public and physical health, Clark said.

"If you fell and broke your leg, would you say tomorrow I'll be better?" he asked. "Why do we treat the brain so much differently? When we know the brain's not working right, we should be able to get help and not have stigma attached to it."

After Clark finished up sharing his story, more than 200 motorcyclists, coming from near and far, revved their engines in support the Brattleboro Retreat's Uniformed Service Program.

The USP serves people who work in fire and police departments, corrections and the military

"Those folks tend to be exposed to trauma to a higher degree than most other lines of service," Kirk Woodring, the retreat's chief clinical officer, said. Most service programs tend to be focused on substance abuse and less on trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, Woodring said. The Uniformed Service Program is also unique because it's not 24 hours.

"It's kind of like a summer camp," he said.

Many of the people Woodring saw ride in Saturday's event were alumni. Those who go through the program together end up staying connected after they've graduated. Alumni, Woodring said, are often the programs best promoters. They go back to their departments and recommend the services to their coworkers.

Starting this month the retreat also debuted a new treatment.

"We just started a biofeedback program and the money raised from the ride last year helped to outfit that program. So we've got a biofeedback laboratory," Woodring said. The biofeedback program uses virtual reality and technology to measure physiological information. Based on individuals physiological information the program helps patients figure out skills to reduce stress and balance emotions.

Last year the event raised $43,000. This year it broke records with $54,000 raised, according to Robert Szpila, the retreat's development director.

Many of the riders had come from out of state to participate in the ride.

Bernie Hussey rode through the rain all the way from Maine. The trip took him eight hours. This is his second year riding. He doesn't know anyone whose participated in the program but he thinks it could his friends in service if they ever needed it.

Dorence Gray and Carole Hough also rode Maine with a group of people. They said they were still drying off on Saturday. Gray is a Vietnam vet and served in EMS, fire services and the National Guard. Hough said her nephew works for the police.

Terry Emond was one of the local riders. She is also one of the co-founders of the Ride for Heroes, which began in 2010. She said originally the group only thought they'd raise a few hundred dollars. They were shocked with the outcome.

"I'm very passionate about the program because I've seen it affect so many people's lives in a positive way," she said. She knows some people who who overlap as both service men and women and bikers. "They all come to support each other. Its a real brotherhood and sisterhood."

Jackie and Joe Signa came to the ride for their second year. Jackie used to work at the retreat, while Joe served in the military. "I figured it was a good way to help out my brothers," he said.

A number of riders, community members and businesses sponsored the ride, including The Richards Group, Sodexo, Brattleboro Elks 1499, Brattleboro Pharmacy, Chroma Technology Corp, Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, Dr. Drew Pate and Dr. Tess Carpenter, G. S. Precision, Lifecycle Renewables Inc, Monadnock Harley-Davidson, Stop & Go Instant Oil Change, LLC, WKVT, Communicators Group, David J. Manning, Inc., FairPoint Communications, Kenneth A. Becker, Physician Finders, The Shoe Tree, Waste Management, Bette Abrams, Bonify, Central Vermont Communications, Dead River Oil Company, Fitzgerald Travel, GPI Construction, Inc., Hotel Pharmacy, Northeast Delta Dental, Southern Vermont Sprinkler Services, Stevens & Associates, Swiss Precision Turning, Inc., SymQuest and Vermont Country Deli.

Top fundraising Ride Champions included Rick Spilhaus, Sgt. Rich LaBard, Colin Young, and Terry Emond.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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