Topeka veteran competes in Iditarod, uses adventure to deal with - KCTV5

Topeka veteran competes in Iditarod, uses adventure to deal with PTSD

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TOPEKA, KS (KCTV) -

The Iditarod begins Saturday and this year a Topeka man will compete in the "last great race on Earth."

Steve Watkins, 38 enjoys adventure and a good adrenaline rush.

"There's nothing like a strong, compelling physical challenge," he said.

It's what led him to the Armed Forces in 1999.

“I never thought I'd serve in a war, much less two wars,” he said.

But a traumatic brain injury sidelined him, that and post-traumatic stress disorder that he describes as recurring guilt.

"I feel guilty because so many of my friend and classmates from West Point died and I feel guilty that they did and that I didn't and I understand that doesn't satisfy logic, but it's how I feel," Watkins said.

When conventional therapies didn't help, Watkins turned to adventure and starting training for the Iditarod.

"It helps on many levels, and even more deep-seeded spiritual level. It's very cleansing and grounding," he said. "So many veterans feel like the most significant part of their life is over and that leads to depression and suicide, and my message is that just because our great wars are over doesn't mean our lives can't be full of significance and meaning.”

That's why Watkins' adventure won't end with the Iditarod. He hopes to finish the Alaska race in ten days, then, head to Kathmandu in Nepal to become the first person to race the Iditarod and climb Mount Everest in the same year.

Quite literally dancing all the way as his hip hop moves are what help him stay alert and warm while on his sled.

His dogs don't mind his dancing either.

“The dogs kind of dance themselves too, so I feel like we're all at a dance party,” Watkins said.

Only half of all Iditarod rookies make it to the finish in Nome on the western Bering Sea coast. The others succumb to sleep deprivation, cold, lack of resolve, the very hardships that made the race so alluring to Watkins.

He doesn't hope to set any speed records, but just hopes to finish and encourage other war veterans to use adventure as a way to process.

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