Sit. Stay. Heal.

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by STEPHANIE HERTZENBERG

On July 23, 2016, the Harrisonburg Police Department Training Grounds were packed. Dozens of people pinned paper numbers to their shirts while sponsors set up tents in the sparse shade. Everyone was waiting for the first race to begin. At 8 a.m. Saturday morning, the Fine Earth Adventure Race Benefiting K9’s For Warriors began.

K9 Presenting the Colors

The Harrisonburg Police Honor Guard presents the colors before the Adventure Race begins. Behind them are members of Team K9s with several K9’s For Warriors service dogs. Photo courtesy Christina Kunkle

In the last 15 years, over 125,000 veterans have died by suicide. Chad Layman, founder of the mental health-oriented non-profit, Strength in Numbers, and organizer of the Adventure Race wanted to help. “I did my research and found service dogs to be having incredible results treating PTSD” (post-traumatic stress disorder). This led to his discovery of the organization called K9’s For Warriors.

K9’s For Warriors is a national non-profit that rescues dogs from shelters that have high rates of euthanasia and trains them to become service canines for veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic injury or military sexual trauma. As of December 2016, the charity had rescued 550 dogs and had 272 veterans “graduate” with their new service dog. The charity’s kennels at Camp K9 can house 57 dogs at once, and each veteran is provided with 120 hours of hands on training with professional dog trainers. In addition, K9’s For Warriors is free for the veterans.

Last year’s Adventure Race raised over $200,000 for this charity. There were 150 corporate sponsors, 1,000 spectators and over 800 people competing in the race itself. Members of the community were still trying to join teams on the day of the race. The Adventure Race had three levels of competition: SWAT Team Race, Intermediate Team Race and Walk for Warriors.

 Early bird registration for the June 24, 2017, Fine Earth Adventure Race
Benefiting K9’s For Warriors
$50 for the Intermediate race
$50 for Walk for Warriors entrants
$75 for SWAT competitors
$10 for general admission
Veterans and active service members receive free general admission.
Prices may increase closer to the date of the race.

The four-person teams competing in the SWAT Team Race took on the exact course that Virginia’s police SWAT teams use. Each group was timed, with the three fastest teams receiving prizes. The Intermediate Team Race Level was a three-mile run filled with obstacles, individual challenges and team challenges. Teams varied wildly in size with large teams designating four “chippers” whose times counted for the whole team.

K9 Army Crawl

Corri Loan crawls beneath barbed wire, one of more than a dozen obstacles and challenges on the Intermediate course. Photo courtesy Christina Kunkle

The third level was the Walk for Warriors, a 1.5 mile walk along a scenic path. Those who were unable to compete or did not want to take part in the actual race could pay for $10 general admission and enjoy the Hackens Boys Concert, food trucks and cheer on those competing in the race. Veterans and active service members received free admission as well as free massages, acupuncture, smoothies, haircuts and cigars.

K9 Log Carry Synergy Strong

Christina Kunkle, Cathy Leitner and Karen Lambert from the Synergy Strong team pose with their logs during the log-carrying challenge on the Intermediate Course. Photo courtesy Christina Kunkle

In 2017, organizers hope for more sponsors and entrants than ever. The minimum goal for this year is $200,000, though Chad Layman is hoping to raise $275,000 and have 1,500 people participate in the race. “K9’s For Warriors is truly saving lives,” says Chad Layman. “I am extremely honored to be helping them.”

The 2017 Adventure Race will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 24. The race will once again take place on the Harrisonburg Police Department Training Grounds, and this year the excitement will start early.

On Friday, June 23, War Paints will be having a Gallery in conjunction with the Adventure Race. War Paints is a non-profit founded by former Navy SEAL Rusty Noesner that seeks to promote and encourage service members who are interested in the arts. War Paints profiles the artist’s work and allows the public to buy the veteran’s work through the War Paints website, WarPaints.org. The veteran receives 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their art.

In addition to its website, as of November 8, 2016, War Paints was looking to create a studio in Harrisonburg, effectively putting its headquarters in the valley. The non-profit is a recent creation, but it is growing rapidly, with the number of artists on the website more than doubling since Noesner was interviewed on WHSV-TV’s “One on One” segment last fall.

Between the two events planned and the numerous Adventure Race team fundraisers taking place in the upcoming months, 2017 promises to be a year that allows the Valley to give back to the service men and women who have sacrificed so much.

Stephanie Hertzenberg, a year-long intern with Valley Living, served as editor for this issue of the magazine. She also works part-time for the Shine children’s Sunday school curriculum and interns at WMRA.

To see more on how K9’s For Warriors and War Paints are working to help veterans and how you can get involved, check out these websites:
• K9’s For Warriors national website – www.k9sforwarriors.org
• Fine Earth Adventure Run Benefiting K9’s For Warriors Facebook page – www.facebook.com/k9adventurerace
• War Paints website – www.warpaints.org
• War Paints Facebook page – www.facebook.com/warpaints.org

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