Gym Program Aims to Save Veterans’ Lives
Posted on November 23, 2016
November 23, 2016
The Journal Scene
About a year ago Bill Wentzel found himself too weak and fatigued to even swim across a pool. The 76-year-old Summerville resident said his only exercise at the time stemmed from yard work and occasional car maintenance.
“I dove into a pool and almost drowned,” he said. “I wasn’t even strong enough to kick. I couldn’t do a pushup or anything so I said, ‘That’s it.’”
After that day, he decided he needed a significant lifestyle change and joined the “Lift for the 22” program at Workout Anytime in the Summerville Galleria shopping center on Bacons Bridge Road.
Designed specifically for veterans, to stimulate their physical and mental health, the program is offered at each of the company’s locations throughout the United States. And each year, the gyms provide 22 new free memberships for those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. A discounted membership is given to vets without PTSD.
From the beginning, when corporate first told him about the program, Summerville franchise owner Kevin Arnold fully supported it.
“I think we owe our veterans a great deal,” he said, “and I’m a firm believer that…the ones that are coming home are the ones having problems. We need to take care of them.”
These days it’s rare for Wentzel not to work out. He said it’s his routine now to stop by the gym for cardio and weights each morning, resting only on Sundays.
Through the veteran program, Wentzel has met at least five other local veterans, each one differing in age and war served. Forming relationships with them is a bonding experience he can’t describe with words. Wentzel even found a similarity with one of the vets.
“I met one guy—he was stationed at the same base I was at, at a different time,” he said.
Wentzel served in Vietnam 1966-1967. He actually signed up for military duty a week before he heard he might get drafted. He wanted to avoid serving as a foot soldier in the Army so he entered the Air Force and filled the role of jet engine mechanic.
“I wasn’t going to dig no foxholes or sleep in the holes,” Wentzel said.
It was a good fit for him because of his love for airplanes. During his childhood in Reading, Pennsylvania, his uncle worked as a civilian instructor pilot, and Wentzel spent much time around flying.
“I was around airplanes from the time I was 8 years old,” he said.
Wentzel went to tech school in Illinois and was sent to the Summerville area in May 1962.
While he doesn’t suffer from PTSD, he certainly enjoys the camaraderie at the local gym and the way it’s helped strengthen him, and he urges any veteran battling anxiety or depression to also join, either for free or at a discounted price.
“It’s very economic. I only pay $16 a month,” Wentzel said. “(Veterans) get to work out and feel better. It will help them mentally as well as physically.”
How the program started
President and CEO of the Lift for the 22 program Carter Davis never imagined his vision for veterans would transform into a popular nationwide program.
He started the organization in March 2015 as a simple social media hash tag. The movement quickly gained momentum and turned into a nonprofit that August. Living just two blocks away from Davis in Beaverton, Oregon, Workout Anytime’s Oregon developer Rick Hascall spotted Davis’s initiative on a Facebook page and through 22 gym memberships for vets, offered a partnership between his company and Davis’s nonprofit.
“My vision originally was to encourage veterans to find each other in gyms around the country,” Davis said, “and use the gym as a place to support one another and get together as a place of healing and building each other up.”
He said the “22” in the program title represents the average number of vets who commit suicide daily. Through 22 memberships per year at each of the 112 Workout Anytime gym locations in the country, Davis hopes to save the lives of at least 2,400 vets annually.
Davis is passionate about the program because, he, too, is a veteran, having completed two overseas deployments that included fighting pirates—yes, even the 2009 event that inspired the Captain Phillips movie, in which Somali pirates hijacked an American container-ship in the Indian Ocean.
Davis said he also helped teach other governments how to fight terrorism, and as a Navy Corpsman served as the person Marines “came to when they had problems.” But he had no one to listen to his problems and he, too, succumbed to PTSD after six years in the military, discharged in 2012 after an injury forced him to live in a wheelchair.
With a shattered leg, he eventually developed nerve disease. In addition, Davis said six military friends committed suicide, and he watched his wife walk out on him. He had reached rock bottom and didn’t want to live anymore. The same night his wife left, he took himself to a local ER for medical attention. After sitting in the waiting room for six hours, he felt helpless and decided to give up.
“I called my buddies and said, ‘Goodbye,’” Davis said.
But he didn’t. Because one of the friends immediately rushed to his side and the next day took him to the gym. And he never stopped going.
“I…exhausted all the anxiety and expression I was feeling by working out,” Davis said.
He soon realized he needed to help vets with similar stories and today, he said he’s “in a much better place” in his life.
For more information on the program or to apply at a specific Workout Anytime location, visit liftforthe22.org.
By Jenna-Ley Harrison
Updated Nov 23, 2016