Op Ed

How Veterans and Non-Veterans Can Get Socially and Physically Active

February 1, 2016

It’s no secret that prolonged isolation is bad for you psychologically, professionally and even physically. Yet some former military members tend to isolate themselves, or at least limit their efforts to meet new people.

Don’t do it. Don’t isolate yourself. Get up, get out there, and own your lot in life. The end of your service is not the end of your story. Surround yourself with positive, and like-minded people. Stay physically and socially fit.

I recently experienced a period of some pretty oppressive isolation. I worked odd hours with an insanely long commute during my first position at Swords to Plowshares. By the time I was promoted, I had no social life and had lost confidence in my ability to meet new people.

Some fellow veterans and work colleagues understood my predicament, and they dragged me out to two groups that have since become a big part of my life: Team RWB and The North Face Mountain Athletics San Francisco. Both offer veterans and non-veterans all kinds of opportunities to become more physically and socially active. They have groups nationwide, and they’re free. I repeat: free.

I’ve been going to the North Face MA workouts since October. We have outdoor workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we’ve had several after-parties with complimentary treats and workout gear. On Thursdays, we go to a spot across the street after the workout and mingle over craft beers, burgers, salads, and poutine. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since 2012, and I’ve made new friends who have all kinds of interesting backgrounds.

Mountain Athletics trainer Liz Letchford says, “Community is important. Fitness is important. We put a lot of effort into creating a program that will make muscles sore and friendships tighten.”

Team RWB is another incredible community. They have chapters just about everywhere, and they’re still growing. Although Team RWB’s mission is essentially to enrich the lives of veterans, you don’t have to be a veteran to join. They want veterans and non-veterans to sweat and socialize together. Veterans can grow their personal and professional networks, and non-veterans can get to know veterans better and see beyond the stereotypes.

In addition to diversity, I love the quantity and variety of activities they have going on. Runs, dinner socials, skating, Krav Maga classes, yoga, hikes, video-game nights, and birthday barbecues. These are only a handful of events I’ve recently attended with the San Francisco Chapter.

“By hosting various physical and social activities, we strive to foster connections that help veterans re-integrate into their communities and break down the so-called military-civilian divide,” explains Kevin Miller, a colleague at Swords to Plowshares and San Francisco Team RWB Community Outreach Director.

Team RWB and The North Face Mountain Athletics are great for anyone, and they’re a resource for people like me who are new to a community or have been out of the loop for a while. I suggest you check out your local group. If you can’t find one, there are plenty of other options. Search out groups on Facebook and meetup.com, and talk to classmates, friends and coworkers.

Just get out there. If you need to start small, start small. Find something you enjoy or want to learn. Try something new and get a little uncomfortable. The worst you can do for your mental health, social life, and professional prospects is to do nothing. Just do something, and do it with positive and supportive people who embrace you for who you are.

Tim Jakab is a Community Education Associate at Swords to Plowshares.