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It’s So Good to Be Part of Life Again

(A Warrior’s Tale)

When the symptoms of post-traumatic stress hit, Hilary Williams went from being a successful Marine officer to a homebound individual, fearful of the world. Five unconscious concussions sidelined her with traumatic brain injury and took a toll. While her concussions were not all combat related, the outcome was still life altering.

“I went from being a very capable aide de camp to a two-star general to having my memory wiped out and some of my executive functioning diminished,” says Hilary. “I come from a long line of Navy officers, including my father and sister, so when I was sidelined, I became very depressed.”

Hilary made a point to avoid as many people as possible, going to stores when they first opened to avoid crowds and minimize contact with the outside world. It was through the support of a 3rd Navy Relief Combat Casualty Visiting Nurse assigned to Hilary that she was able to begin the healing process.

“In addition to her normal routine of helping me to accomplish tasks and sorting through my medications, she really encouraged me to get involved in several groups,” says Hilary. “I started by volunteering at my dog’s clinic just to get out and interact with people.”

Photos by Hannele Lahti “A Dog Photographer.”

By volunteering at Trip’s veterinarian’s office, Hilary was able to get out and interact with people in small doses, while doing something she enjoyed. Her dog, Trip, was not only of great support to her, but has the right demeanor to be trained as a service dog. By working with Freedom Guide Dogs, Trip was able to aid Hilary in her continued recovery.

“Post-traumatic stress is not easy for anyone. Trip provides me with a lot of comfort and grounding,” says Hilary. “He’s been instrumental in supporting my recovery over the last five years.”

Because Hilary understands the power of a supportive service dog, she volunteered on a nearby base with Warrior K-9 where she trained service dogs for other military service members.

“Each dog has a unique skill set that allows him to provide a service aligned with their owner’s needs,” says Hilary. “Some are alert for medical conditions, while others are trained to pick up items from the floor. I enjoyed training the dogs knowing they could help others.”

Family Is What You Make It

Once Hilary found a community around her dog, Trip, she was able to open up to more opportunities. This led her to becoming passionate about fitness.

“I always felt like I had something to give. Once a career in the military was no longer an option, finding another way to give back was key in my continued success,” says Hilary. “Discovering fitness, and ultimately spin classes, opened up new avenues for me.”

Hilary was fortunate to have an organization pay for her gym membership for the first two years. After five years at the same gym, she is working toward her certification as a spin instructor.

“I have my people there and have also realized what levels of fitness I can achieve,” says Hilary. “I’m more fit now than ever and was to support others in achieving fitness goals they did not think were possible.”

Community is Everywhere

Even though Hilary initially struggled to get out and meet people, she remained focused on improving. With the help of Trip and others, she was able to overcome adversity and continues to heal.

Photo by Hannele Lahti “A Dog Photographer.”“Community is everywhere, you just have to find the one that fits you at the time,” says Hilary. “I know it’s frightening, but it can be done.”

It was that attitude that gave Hilary the courage to seek out different types of community groups, including the folks at the George Washington chapter of Heroes on the Water.

“Karl is amazing. The organization focuses on fishing and kayaking, but I primarily enjoy the kayaking,” says Hilary. “I also volunteer in various capacities, which allows me to bond with other veterans.”

Hilary and Trip support the events that are focused on patients undergoing inpatient treatment for addiction.

“It’s important to me to help others open doors to a new way of life,” says Hilary. “I was in a really dark place for a while. Volunteering with organizations like Heroes on the Water has helped me find who I am outside of the Marines.”

Hilary understands first-hand how difficult it can be for someone to overcome challenges, injuries, and move into a new life, particularly one handed to you suddenly. She also believes it is possible for everyone to achieve.

“It’s possible to get better,” says Hilary. “I want people to understand that. You have to be willing to follow a different path with an understanding the rewards are there.”

Hilary and others like her deserve our support. By providing something as simple as kayak fishing experiences, you can help someone find their new path and become part of a thriving community.

Hilary says it best:

“It’s good to be part of life again.”

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