Retired first responder Jeff Shepard led a Ride 4 Relief in June, riding his motorcycle cross-country to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder in fire fighters, police officers and EMTs.
The Ride 4 Relief stopped in Winchester at the Jim Stutzman Cadillac dealership on Valley Avenue to meet with first responders and veterans alike.
He spent nearly two decades as a fire fighter and later, a police officer, but was forced into retirement after he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015.
Shepard describes the cumulative experiences that led to his diagnoses as a bookcase.
“Something stressful happens, you put in on your bookcase,” said Shepard. “You try and be macho and go on. Eventually, that bookcase fills up, fills up, fills up, and then something happens, and mine was my ambush shooting, that my book case crumbled.”
Shepard was ambushed while working as a police officer and began having nightmares. But he thought he worked through it and so he went back to work. In 2015, he was working when someone threw a homemade pipe bomb at him. Things began to spiral from there and he left the force.
“At that time, I kinda lost my identity,” Shepard said. “I’d been a public servant for 18 years at that time.”
After he retired, Shepard tried to surround himself with people who understood his experience. It was around then that he met Leslie Mayne, the founder of Permission To Start Dreaming. Her organization supports veterans suffering from PTSD and was founded after Mayne lost her son Kyle Farr, an Iraq veteran, in 2009.
Shepard began helping Mayne run her organization’s events, such as golf tournaments and races. Last year, he got the idea to do a motor cycle ride to raise money for Permission To Start Dreaming.
After a successful first ride last year, Shepard suggested riding across the country, from Seattle to Virginia, culminating in a ceremony at the grave site of Mayne’s son Kyle, in Hamilton, Virginia.
At the same time, Shepard wondered if he could address his own experiences during the cross-country ride.
“I don’t think people are aware that fire fighters and police officers are dealing with PTSD,” said Shepard. “What if, as we’re riding to all these cities we go to, let’s stop in at the cities and see what the departments are doing.”
Shepard met with first responders across the nation to learn what police and fire departments are doing to help their forces. He says that a number of larger stations have created entire branches to support first responders. More attention is being paid to the issue now than ever before.
Shepard suggests that instead of packing the metaphorical bookcase, seek help.
“Get the help, cause if you can catch it early, you can learn to manage it and control it, and go on with your life.”