Wounded veterans reaching new heights through life-changing climb
A team of veterans strives to overcome mental and physical barriers as they prepare to climb California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney in September.
When Jody Brower learned his wife Kelsey had nominated him to climb the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S. alongside other wounded veterans, his first reaction was gratitude.
“I knew Soldiers to Summits could provide me with a new sense of purpose that I’d lost since leaving the military,” says Jody, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Soldiers to Summits is a program of the nonprofit No Barriers USA. The program uses mountains as a metaphor to help wounded veterans overcome physical and symbolic barriers. This year’s climb — Mission: Mt. Whitney — is sponsored by Wells Fargo. More than a dozen veterans from across the U.S. were selected to climb the 14,505 feet of California’s Mount Whitney this September.
In the days just before the climb, the team will spend time volunteering at New Directions for Veterans, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides transitional housing and services for homeless veterans.
“I just knew this entire experience would be a great opportunity for Jody,” says Kelsey, a Wells Fargo bank store manager in Garner, North Carolina.
“I’m excited about the chance to work with people who are all moving towards the same goal and lifting and encouraging one another along the way,” says Jody. “It will be a challenge, but it will also be life changing.”
Challenges are nothing new to Jody or the men and women whom he’ll be climbing alongside. Ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s and representing the Navy, Army, Army National Guard, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the veterans face challenges that range from being amputees to coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. As for Jody, after eight years and two deployments, he copes with partial hearing loss, a herniated disc, and memory and headache issues.
The summit team has spent the spring and summer preparing for the summit and learning the mental and physical skills that will help them make the climb. They also spent time in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains where, in addition to climbing the more than 12,000 feet of James Peak, they began to learn more about one another.
“We share a bond that’s difficult to put into words,” says Jody. “And this experience will allow us to use many of the skills we learned in the military.”
Then, weather permitting, the climb is scheduled to begin on Sept. 6. While the team is expected to reach the top of Mount Whitney on Sept. 11, Jody says the experience will not end when the climb does.
“I see myself not only making lifelong friendships out of this, but I also hope to come back and help other veterans during future Soldiers to Summits missions,” he says.
“I know he will be a leader and encourage the rest of the team to keep striving through the difficult times,” says Kelsey. She believes her husband will conquer this challenge just as he has many others.
“He’s always been a hero to me,” she says. “I know he can do it.”
Learn more about the expedition or follow the journey at Soldiers to Summits Mission: Mt. Whitney.