Hello, My name is Jim Whittum, and I am the founder of Vet2Track. I have had several people ask why I started Vet2Track. Here is the story and background of how it came to be:
In 2009 I was brought on Active Duty to prepare our Battalion for Deployment to Afghanistan. I decided to upgrade my current bike, a 2009 ZX6R. Riding filled a void that I couldn’t fill any other way. The solitude of riding a lone, the adrenaline and the camaraderie of riding with a group. A very close friend and fellow Veteran told me I should do a track day. I had heard of track days but really hadn’t given them much thought. Finally I gave in a couple months before my deployment. I was nervous, afraid to crash by beautiful new bike, but it was something I was going to go through with. The track day was a blast, it wasn’t until I rode on the street the next time that I realized how much different riding was now. The skills I learned translated directly to the street and I realized I was a safer rider and didn’t need to push it anymore on the street.
September of 2010 I deployed to Kandahar Afghanistan, I was the NCOIC of an Afghan Partnership/Training Team working with a Battalion of Afghan Army Soldiers. My team and I spent a lot of time on the road, as a Personal Security Detachment (PSD) for the Battalion Staff when going outside the wire, to assisting on Combat Logistics Patrols and while training the Afghan Army in convoy operations While I was in Kandahar we had rocket attacks nearly daily, many times multiple strikes throughout the day I watched helplessly as a rocket hit a small building and killed the contractor inside on Christmas Day. She had been in country for two days. I helped pull casualties out of a dining facility after it had been hit with another rocket. I was even on the phone with my wife/family when we were under rocket attack a few times. And the list goes on….. there is a lot more but I won't bore you with details. After I came home things for me personally were completely different. I pulled away from a lot of things that I previously enjoyed. I rejected the fact that I had anything wrong. I was sure I could fix it myself. My personal relationships were failing. Eventually this took its toll and my marriage failed. This was no longer just a “me” issue, but it was effecting those around me as well. I had started riding again and while I was riding I felt better, but there was still so much missing. I had started focusing track days again and began to feel “normal” again. My friendships were improving, I was able to accept friendship and even give it back. Each track day I progressed a little further and when I wasn’t on track I had time in between to do adjustments to the bike and watch the videos to see what I could do better next time. I always had something to look forward to.
Fast forward a year and many track days, I crashed in June of 2013 (4 days before I retired from the military) and broke my collarbone and was unable to do track days until the last weekend of the season in October. I began seeing a therapist and even the therapist saw the good that was coming from the track. I began surrounding myself with friends with similar interests both on and off the track. My quality of life was improving more and more. It was actually during this time that the beginnings of Vet2Track really started to take shape in my head. I realized that although I was unable to ride the track was still helping me, helping in ways I had never imagined. The friendships I had made, looking forward to the next time I could ride the track, visiting on occasion to the track. I never had the back slide that I expected. It became apparent that the track and all that surrounds it had been true therapy for me. It allowed me to feel myself again, to focus on something that made me feel alive. In 2014 I did most of the full season and spoke with a lot of other people, many I found were Vets that had a similar experience that I did. I took a long personal vacation the end of 2014, beginning of 2015 and had a lot of time to think, relax and put a lot of my thoughts together. I met a very valued and inspiring friend that had begun following her passion. Through some of my own thoughts and the inspiration of just going forward and doing it, Vet2Track became a reality in March of 2015, I decided to begin to work with fellow veterans and their therapists by getting them on the track. Will it work for everyone, no, but for the ones it does it can truly be life changing as it was for me. If we can improve or save the life of even one Veteran it is worth all of the time, sacrifice and work.
Statistics of Veteran suicide in the United States are staggering. An average of 22 veterans a day take their own life. Look around you next time you are at work or in a store and count 22 people. That’s over 8000 lives a year. That’s more than the population of the town I grew up in. Every day, every week, every year. For several years I have gotten the Preliminary Loss Reports from the US Army Safety Center and have seen countless soldiers that lost their life on a motorcycle. Many times the cause was “loss of control”. Many have done what I did and purchased a motorcycle to feel alive again, the adrenaline and sometimes even the close brushes with death. Many come home, purchase the bike yet don’t have the skills required to ride safely, especially at the speeds todays machinery is capable of. For me the track gave me skills I could use on the street. This actually took away my need to be “that idiot” on the street. I started doing more long distance rides, enjoying the rides and the friendship instead of racing everywhere on the street. I saved the pushing it for the track. Getting fellow veterans that are in the same place that I was on the track may not only improve their quality of life, but possibly save it. The VA tries to do their part, but the demand far outweighs the resources so they end up prescribing meds to fix it without the follow up treatment needed. Helping veterans is what Vet2Track is all about, I don’t get free track time out of it, I pay my own way, as well those that volunteer with me, it is a passion for us, a mutual desire to improve the lives of our fellow man.