At the young age of 19, Dan Newberry enlisted in the U.S. Army. By the time he turned 28, he served two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart, but in 2012, he was medically discharged. For nine years, Newberry lived in a world of structure and discipline. Everything he needed was provided for him, from the clothes he wore every day to the doctor who checked his health. But when he was suddenly let go, Newberry had to learn how to do everything for himself and had little resources to help him with the transition.
“When I got out, I had a really hard time, primarily because I didn’t know how to integrate myself back into the community,” he says. More than fulfilling daily needs, the former soldier was struggling to make sense of the traumatic events he experienced in the army and unknowingly dealing with PTSD.
No matter how hard he tried, Newberry couldn’t find a way to fit in. Potential employers were telling him he wasn’t worth their time and people he opened up to about his past didn’t know how to respond. When he would talk about losing a close friend in an explosion, people would respond with a story about their grandfather passing. He felt overwhelmingly lonely and didn’t want to ask for help because he saw it as a sign of weakness. Struggling with depression and unemployment, Newberry attempted suicide in 2015. “I decided I needed a way out.”
After being at the lowest place in his life, Newberry started looking for things that made him feel better about himself, and what he found was physical fitness. A regular workout routine reminded him of the military and the bond he and his fellow servicemen would share every morning. He began going to the gym again but felt that the sense of community was missing.
So, in 2017, Newberry began teaching a free fitness class for veterans that focused on comradery and acceptance. He wanted to create a safe space for people dealing with trauma to have a conversation. He personally understood that traumatic experiences are “wounds that don’t really heal” and sought to bring people with those struggles together. “I don’t want people to feel like I did. I wish that, when I got out of the military, there would have been something like that for me.”
The class, called 22 Fitness, is hosted at FUEL Fitness in Oak Creek every Sunday at 11 a.m. Newberry structures the class so that people of any fitness level can participate. During the class, he will often share one of his difficult experiences, opening the floor for anyone that wants to talk.
Since losing his way after being in the military, Newberry is now driven to help veterans find the recourses they need to acclimate back into society. The last few years taught him that he can’t always solve problems on his own. In his words, “the most courageous thing someone can do is reach out for help, and the most selfless thing someone can do is listen.”
Learn more at 22fitnesscommunity.com.
Read the article on the Shepherd Express.