There are many reasons we all run. Sometimes we start running to lose weight, be active, or try something new. But once we start there is no turning back. But for others, it truly is a sense of accomplishment and a goal to reach due to a journey that has been so difficult you want to accomplish something that can bring you back to life so to speak.
I want to introduce to you an incredibly inspiring person who will be one of many of the inspiring stories running this weekend at the runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna. His name is Eric Donaho. He is from Carmel, IN and a Retired Army Sergeant now runs his own photography business.
For retired Sergeant U.S. Army Airborne Infantry, Eric Donaho, his life is one of closing doors and opening windows. In 2004 he had just completed basic training at Fort Benning and was flying to his assigned duty station in Fort Richardson, Alaska. During the eight-hour flight, he met “the one”- the woman who would become his wife and mother of their two children.
Two years later, Eric was deployed with a scout sniper platoon to Iraq, but before setting foot in-country he was ordered to return stateside with the terrible news that his then-pregnant wife had miscarried at seven months.
Returning to Iraq the challenges continued. During his tour of duty he was hit by two roadside bombs and an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, neck and back issues, Eric was sent to Warrior Transitions Unit and was medically retired in 2009.
Eric felt unready for the transition back to civilian life. He loved his job, and the challenges continued to mount back home. His wife miscarried several more times. He felt the financial pinch of buying a home with a number of undisclosed problems. His wife contracted a rare form of cancer. Two close friends committed suicide. And he began to have dark thoughts of his own. He was ready to take his own life while sitting at the kitchen table holding his Glock, but thoughts of his wife and two children stopped him. He battled through, taking inspiration from the movie Rocky VI: “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Eric reached out to veterans programs and started using the tools he was given in counseling. He began looking at new ways of life and embarked on a personal journey back to health, to finding direction to keep moving forward.
As a professional photographer, Eric planned an expedition to Nepal and was to spend a few days at a disabled children’s center. Asking what he could bring for the kids, he was told they needed eight wheelchairs. With so much on his plate, he wasn’t sure he could take that project on, but it lit a fire within him. He raised $9,400 to buy from a company that makes custom chairs for kids and overcame the many barriers to delivering those chairs to the Nepalese children. “That experience really turned my life around” in more ways than one. While battling a nasty case of salmonella in Nepal, he got an email from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a chosen partner of The Cigna Foundation, inviting him to apply to be a veteran’s advocate as part of the” Storm the Hill” group. Were it not for food poisoning, he would not have been able to respond in time. A window had opened.
Storm the Hill brings in select groups of 12-15 vets to descend on Washington to meet with Congress and Senators and lobby for the “Big 6” priorities identified by IAVA’s 400,000 members. These priorities include: combat suicide, improve services for women vets, a post-9/11 GI Bill for education, VA reform, burn pit issues (“our generation’s Agent Orange”), and researching the value of medical cannabis.
He is especially passionate about alternatives for opioids for vets to use in pain management, such as the whole body, holistic approach of exercise, physical therapy and counseling – rather than taking opioids to mask the pain. “It’s very personal to me,” Eric said. “Of the 14 people I’ve known who committed suicide, 13 had opioids in their system. In fact, our platoon did not lose anyone in combat—they were lost to suicide.” This is a very serious problem in our Country. I completely agree with Eric on this because so many people who aren’t Veterans die from opioids. So many are quick to hide the pain rather than try to find out where and what is causing it. I myself run into this problem all the time. I suffer from chronic pain and have never lived a single day without pain but I also don’t take pain medication. Just for my head. And it isn’t nowhere close to opioids. It definitely is a problem.
Running is also something Eric loved and helped him “get out of his own head.” To which I also can relate. How many times have we all said “Running is therapy for the soul?” Because it is. It’s just you and your thoughts and your feet hitting the ground kind of just quiets everything in your mind.
His journey to health will take him to this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, presented by Cigna. The Cigna Foundation is bringing Eric and his family on an all-expense paid trip to Orlando, where he will run the 5K as part of Team Cigna on January 10, 2019. “The Cigna Foundation is proud to support organizations like IAVA who share our commitment to eliminating barriers to health and improving access to care,” said Mary Engvall, Executive Director of the Cigna Foundation. “We know a person’s journey to wellness can be limited by factors beyond their control, so our philanthropic giving is designed to improve health equity and respond to community needs in ways that are sustainable, scalable and effective.”
I think Eric running the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 5K will be such an amazing and exciting experience for him that will help him in his journey to keep moving forward. Because when you are limited or have a lot going on, it does get difficult at times, but I know he can and he will. Super thrilled for him and I know it will be a joy for his family as well.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”- Walt Disney