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Vets look to get back in shape through NISRA program

Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:05 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Andrew Bittenbender of Huntley walks his family dog, Gucci, on Saturday along Oak Ridge Road in Marengo. After a roadside bomb in Baghdad in 2007 left him with a back injury, he decided to seek help in dealing with his injury. In November, he joined the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association’s Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program and participates in free training sessions at a nearby gym. The program offers 15 free personal training sessions for veterans with disabilities. "I can work, I can do labor, but there are days where it hurts to get out of bed," said Bittenbender, "I wanted to have someone there that could help teach me how to strengthen my back."

Ed Peters hadn’t worked this hard since boot camp. That was 1967.

Like most veterans, the Lake in the Hills man had fallen out of combat shape as adulthood progressed. Peters, 64, had planned to work on his fitness after he retired, but a program from the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association has encouraged him to get into the gym sooner.

The program, called Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies, provides veterans who receive at least 10 percent disability benefits with free gym memberships and 15 hours of personal training.

Organizers also put on monthly social events such as paintballing and a chili cook-off.

Peters, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam war, receives about 60 percent disability stemming in large part from when he was shot in the jaw – an incident that, not surprisingly, left scarring. Like many veterans, he also has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies – which also provides membership to veterans’ workout partners – has been a motivator for Peters and his wife.

“You usually would come home and hang around and not do much,” he said. “This way ... you get into a routine where you go and workout for an hour or so, and it kind of makes you feel better that you did something.”

Peters came in with a wave – albeit small – of enrollees to the program in the fall. By November, membership pushed to about 13 veterans. For its first couple months, the program born last year had been providing for a single member.

It has since taken off. More than 30 veterans are currently enrolled, said Dave Dauphin, who manages the program for NISRA.

Dauphin said NISRA borrowed the idea from Addison-based NEDSRA – the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association.

Vets and their workout partners get free membership for a year. The 15 free training sessions are stacked toward the beginning of the period to jump-start the fitness process. Veterans are to complete the first five sessions in the first couple of weeks of enrollment, and the next five sessions in the next couple of weeks, Dauphin said. The final five sessions can be spread throughout the rest of the year.

Free time with a trainer has been welcomed by Andrew Bittenbender, who was injured when a roadside bomb went off in Baghdad during his Iraq deployment.

“My back is kind of messed up,” said Bittenbender, 28, of Huntley. “I thought it’d be a good idea to go there and get someone who’s trained in that profession to help me.”

The Army veteran said the training has helped, but that the health of his back is still “hit or miss.” He’s scheduled for an MRI later this month.

“There are days I wake up and it’s alright, and there are days I wake up and I can’t get out of bed at all,” he said.

The program continues to gain speed, Dauphin said. Referrals from local veteran agencies has brought inquiries on a weekly basis.

“It’s a no brainer for veterans,” Dauphin said. “A lot of veterans get out of the military and their fitness slacks a little. ... And then they come to the realization not too long after that they’d like to get back in shape.”

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