By Katie Sobiech
Cassie Schumacher, founder of Pedal’s for Heroes, is a woman with a passionate purpose: to honor the life of veterans. She is determined to make the sacrifices of their lives echo in the hearts and minds of others and throughout history.
When asked what makes someone suddenly want to start a nonprofit organization for veterans, Schumacher’s response came from the heart: “I think things happen over a lifetime. I grew up with a father who was a Vietnam vet. He was a very respected businessman, active in the community and he gave back to other people.”
Her father helped start a VFW, gave veterans jobs and taught them the value of a work ethic. In 1988, he helped organize a “welcome home” parade for Vietnam vets.
“Vietnam vets organizing their own parade – when you think about that it’s sad,” Schumacher reflected.
Shortly after the parade, she said, her father, “checked out (mentally) and left the family after 22 years of marriage.”
But it was a progression, which she said she believes to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from war – which many men and women are dealing with these days.
Her father is now homeless and living in a tent in Alabama.
Never the Same
“The things that people experience in war, like to take a person’s life or have your life in the constant threat of being killed, and all of those things – I cannot imagine. And if you’re in a caravan you cannot stop – if there’s an animal, child or person in the way you have to continue going,” Schumacher explained of the horrors.
“Then you come home, get off the plane, put your stuff down and a day later could be at a Brown’s game. If you think about that – one minute you’re in a battle situation where you’re taking someone’s life and you’re watching your friends die, and then all of a sudden you’re at a football game or a family dinner and everyone’s like, ‘welcome home hero’ and you’re still dealing with that. The military teaches you to put that behind you,” she continued.
And that’s what her father did. He went to college, got a degree, was a successful accountant and then something triggered within him 20 years later.
Unseen, Unhealed Wounds
“If you listen to people’s stories before they go to war, a lot of them have problems. I look at my dad’s life, he had trauma at a young age. So you take people that have broken lives and you send them to war, and it’s not just war but things that happened before the war. Then you take in mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction…There’s a lot of barriers to assimilation,” Schumacher explained.
Speaking with a veteran just a couple of weeks before the interview, he told her, “It’s really hard coming home because you go from being a hero every day to a zero.”
“You come home and have a hard time finding a job, and you go to college. You’ve just grown up real quick and now you’re with a bunch of kids playing video games that have never really experienced the world. How do you transition into that?” Schumacher asked.
The effects of war just begin when a soldier returns home, and they have a lot to deal with, in many different aspects of life.
“And that’s what I want to create an awareness for,” Schumacher said.
Heart for the Hurting
Schumacher will never forget staying the night in the woods, in a tent, near her father.
She realizes he might not have taken this road if he had the proper follow-up after his war experience.
A documentary on her father is currently in the works. His story represents many of the hurting veterans and after-effects of war.
Pedal’s for Heroes is working on expanding its horizons through a partnership with the University of Akron. The group hopes to be a presence on campus and give away entries to 5 and 10 k marathons.
The goal is to get people active and get discussions flowing on this topic.
Schumacher said she hopes to turn advocating for veterans into a full-time position.
“I want to turn this into my career path. I love advocacy and creating awareness of these issues,” Schumacher said.
If you are interested in helping this cause, please visit Cassie’s website for more information: http://www.wheels4change.org.