Veterans returning from service often struggle to readjust to the life of a civilian. However, finding a way to bond with fellow veterans has been proven to be a successful technique of reacquainting with everyday life; veterans going through the same struggle can work together to ease into normality. Knowing this, Liz Cross set out to create a free program that would allow veterans to meet and bond, while receiving a fair bit of exercise to help work through the frustrations of previous experiences.
According to an article recently completed by ABC News, when designing this program, only one sport came to mind that could meet all of her requirements. Fencing, which relies heavily on a combination physical activity and mental agility, would be the perfect solution for struggling veterans and active duty members. To her, the sport’s emphasis on strategy, focus, determination and a strong honor code just naturally meshed well with the existing traits of those who serve; in essence, to Cross, the sport was a sort of natural extension on a veteran’s abilities.
The group she formed, often referred to as Veterans On Guard or The Fencers Club, began last fall and now holds twenty veterans and active duty members. Participants are of all ages and come from a variety of wars and branches of the military. They meet twice a week to study the epee style of fencing. In a typical session, participants engage in conditioning, the study of footwork and techniques, as well as lunges, jumps and arm work. Cross’s goal with the group was to engage disabled and able-bodied service members to integrate into the broader community, through a variety of experiences, both involving in the actual study of fencing, as well as through the sharing of stories and knowledge from their time in the service.
Most participating veterans, such as Alberto Cruz, first heard of the program through the VA of New York Harbor’s Healthcare System. Cruz, a United States Air Force veteran, has found the club to be very beneficial; focusing on fencing allows for a return to something familiar—discipline. Through the community of veterans, he has also learned so many new things, from vets that served in a variety of different battlefields and wars; it has been a very positive means of getting out frustration and helping others at the same time.