Imagine an existence where lurking behind every corner, hidden beneath every shadow, is a potential threat to your safety, morphed by your trauma-scared mind and as real to you as the fingers on your hand. Where in the countenance of every stranger is the form of your enemy, reducing all social interaction to an altercation, leaving you with fists clenched and at the ready.
The anxiety it causes robs you of the comfort of coping mechanisms, magnifying the benign to thoughts of impending doom, tricking your brain to imagine injury, homelessness, utter despair, and death as the only foreseeable outcomes.
Jason’s Daily Battle
Now imagine a world in which these threats are not imagined or constructed by your adrenaline-fueled memories of a hypercharged work environment. “I was trained to take in all information around me to try to detect impending attacks or ambushes and that switch is hard to turn off,” says Jason Mutchler (Strava profile), a 10 year US Air Force Special Forces veteran who went off to basic training six days after September 11th.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has taken away the comforts of a nurturing social system for Jason. “I now live a very secluded life and plan out every aspect of it,” Jason explains when describing how he gets through each day.
PTSD is defined as a mental health problem which some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. Of the veterans who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Gulf War (Desert Storm), between 12-20% suffer from PTSD in a given year.
Escaping Near-Fatal Injury
Jason was wounded in combat on January 15th, 2008 when, while acting as Convoy Commander, his truck was hit by an improvised explosive device and small arms fire. “I was injured to a level that I was medically evacuated from the road just outside Baghdad and returned back to the States where I spent the next year recovering from my injuries,” he describes in the least traumatic way.
A lifelong athlete excelling in football, basketball, track & field, and baseball prior to deployment, his general distrust of others and the safety of most circumstances prevents him from playing the sports he once loved.
“When I was wounded, I was burnt badly, resulting in numerous skin grafts,” Jason explains, “and I fear something out of control will cause an accident which triggers memories of being in the hospital.”
Finding Zwift and Purpose
In 2012, after a mostly-successful recovery from his injuries, Jason was inspired by the story of the father and son duo Team Hoyt, and felt that triathlon spoke to his competitive nature. “I did a few triathlons and kinda fizzled out as I didn’t like being out in public on the road,” he laments. Ironically, it was while viewing an Ironman telecast in October of 2018 that he saw an advertisement for Zwift and immediately thought to himself, “This could be a safe and secure way for me to train and stay active.”
Zwift as Security
By November he already owned two Wahoo KICKRs and was racing 3-5 times a week. He joined a team and excitedly states, “I was socializing with people, on Discord, for the first time since I was injured in Iraq.”
Jason (ZwiftPower profile) notes that just prior to joining Zwift he was powerlifting heavily, while in the security of his home, weighed 224 pounds, and “ended up having a heart attack.” By January of 2019 Jason had hired a coach and presently races at a healthy weight of 160 lbs.
Jason rides a Trek Madone9 on his KICKR 4 with a KICKR Climb positioned in front of a green screen used to enhance the live streaming of events via his YouTube channel. Jason’s wife Ashten, the mother of their two young daughters who he describes as “my rock who can spot my triggers from a mile away”, is also in the US Air Force and a fellow Zwifter. Ashten (ZwiftPower profile) is a fine racer in her own right, and rides a Tacx Neo 2T appropriately and fittingly positioned directly beside her husband.
Jason’s Top 3 Reasons Why Zwift is Essential to an Athlete with PTSD
- The gift of Zwift for those who have PTSD is a safe environment to train without fear of being hit by a car, getting caught in inclement weather, or struck with mechanical issues.
- Zwift allows for socialization that is 100% controlled by me. I can disconnect at any moment.
- Zwift is extremely convenient to train the body. A healthy body promotes a healthy mind. In addition, a tired body sleeps better and quality sleep connects directly to a quality life for someone with PTSD.
A Changed Life
Jason credits Zwift with changing his life…physically and mentally. “Zwift gave me the chance to perform again while having the social safety I am desperate for. I can train 15-20 hours a week all by myself, or while talking to friends,” he says, “without having to be face to face.”
Zwift has also provided Jason with something that he thought he would never get back in his life. “As a lifetime athlete and soldier, I thrive on being a part of a team and suffering together,” Jason remarks. “The bonds and hardships run the deepest and my team is my family.”
“This is my therapy, this is my battle, this is my peace!” A peace he never thought he would find. For that Zwift should be proud, but nearly as proud as soldier Mutchler should be for his service to his country.
Thank you for your service Jason Mutchler. Ride On!
How about you?
Do you turn to Zwift to cope with social insecurity or as a way to train in safety and comfort? Comment below! Let your fellow Zwifters know how you summon the courage to overcome your social anxiety.