The Unbeatable Mind Summit is coming soon, and you don’t want to miss this extraordinary event. Guests like Mark Sisson, Ashley Horner and Joshua Mantz, among others will be giving presentations, and the Summit gives you an opportunity to build on your Kokoro spirit and work on your 5 mountain training with other members of the Unbeatable Mind tribe. Space is almost gone, so register now. Save $200 from your registration by entering the code “podcast200” at checkout on the Summit site.
As many already know, with the Courage Foundation, Commander Divine led a long trek from Sparta to Thermopylae in September to emulate and commemorate King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors. He talks with two of the vets who were with him on that journey, Ilya Berler and Eric Colburn. The vets talk about their experiences with war, after the war and on the long march from Sparta with Mark.
- They were both deeply affected by the 300 March
- Mark’s Courage Foundation was established to help a number of people, but with vets suffering from PTS as its first priority
- You will be able to help with future charity events
Go to the site at couragefoundation.net to find out more about this organization and how you can help them with their mission
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The Halo neurostimulation system will help you to push boundaries and perform at your maximum capacity. Commander Divine is often testing new products, and Halo is the most recent that he felt his tribe needed to know about. It will improve your ability to learn physical tasks, and is as simple to use as putting on a pair of headphones. Go to haloneuro.com and use the code “unbeatablemind125” to get 125 dollars off the Halo Sport system.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast with Mark Divine. Thank you very much for continuing to support us here at Unbeatable Mind. And for sharing this podcast on social media, leaving us reviews and also rating it, which is extremely helpful for other folks to find it.
Love getting your feedback. You can send feedback to info@unbeatablemind. And we just hit 3 and a half million downloads so we’re kind of growing quite a bit every month. Over 150,000 downloads a months and that’s growing.
The podcast is available at unbeatablemind.com/podcast. It’s on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and who knows what else they’ll invent soon that we can offer it through.
Before I get going today–I got a really special podcast today with a couple really cool guests. But before I introduce them, I want to also mention that the Unbeatable Mind Summit is coming up December 1 to the 3rd. If you haven’t thought about it or you’re on the fence, we are getting down to the wire in terms of availability of spots.
Now some of you may have heard that recently I took a trip to Greece. And in Greece I brought some clients as well as we had some donors who donated through or to the Courage Foundation. In order for us to support several veterans to come to Greece with us, and to experience this–what we call this epic adventure. This epic challenge.
It was an incredible experience. Even personally I was actually a little bit nervous about this cause it’s 8 days and we’re hiking the trail the King Leonidas took with his 300 Spartans from Sparta–which is a small Greek city-state kind of in the center of the lower part of Greece. All the way to Thermopylae and that’s on the… I think it’s the Adriatic…but I don’t know the exact body of water that is the inlet there, that is on… Maybe Eric or Ilya will know, but anyways…
And there he met the Persians who were landing their very, very large expeditionary landing force to basically take over Greece and then head into Europe. So this was part of the long period of time where the Persians were fighting the Greeks and this little battle had an impact. And it was more of a psychological impact, because, to be fair–the 300 Spartans and their 700 Thespian teammates didn’t survive the event and the Persians ended up destroying them all. And moving on.
But it was so inspirational and unifying for the disparate Greek city states, that they came together after that incident to fight back the Persians and then the Athenians beat them at a huge naval battle a year later. And it just really, really fascinating period of history that a lot of people–accurately or not–credit with kind of the preservation of Western culture as we know it today. Because had the Persian Empire taken over the Ionian continent… or peninsula, and the Greek culture, and then gone further into Europe… who knows? Right? What the world would be like.
So it’s one of these really interesting things.
At any rate, so without going on too long here, just I wanted to set the context… We went over there… I think there were 12 of us. We had a fellow named Bart from the Netherlands come and film the event. He was quite a character. So there will be a small docudrama coming out about the event. That’ll have some really interesting and inspiring imagery and interviews and whatnot. We hiked roughly 24 to 25 kilometers a day. 2 of the 8 days we ran a half-marathon. 1 of the 8 days we did a 60 kilometer bike–which felt like 120 kilometers, cause we had 22 flat tires amongst all of us. Just crazy.
Every morning we did Unbeatable Mind training to prepare our minds and bodies for the day. That included some Kokoro yoga and breathing exercises. And those event were at some sort of historically significant point. And every evening–after the long ruck or run–we did another evening session where we did some more breathing and visualization. And also 300 repetitions of some body-weight exercises. That started out on day 1 with 300 man makers and then at the end 300 pushups.
So it was wicked cool. I had an incredible time myself. It was transformative to be able to work with the vets. The 2 individuals that we have today with me are Eric Colburn who’s a… was not there as a vet seeking some recovery work, but was actually there because he raised money to help other vets. But Eric is a vet, a former Marine Corps guy–I’ll let him give you the details. And also Ilya Berler, former Lithuanian by birth and an Army guy. So we have a Marine and an Army guy.
So Eric, thank you both first for joining me today. I’m super-stoked to have you guys on and I think this is going to be really cool to share with the community.
Eric Colburn: Glad to be a part of it.
Ilya Berler: Thank you.
Mark: So why don’t we start with you, Eric. What’s your background? Where are you from? And just few minutes to let the folks know where you’re from and who you are.
Then I’ll ask you some questions.
Eric: Absolutely. So I really love where I grew up and I’m telling people about it all the time. And I have an affectionate little term I use call “WIN.” So I grew up in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska. My family farms in all 3 states and growing up farming and playing team sports, you at a very young age learn it’s about the community and really the greater society around you.
And then I left the Midwest. Joined the Marine Corps. That brought me out here to Raleigh, North Carolina where I reside to today. Btu it did bring me out here to the Carolinas. And that’s pretty much my background.
Did 4 years in the Marine Corps. Went to college. I’ve got a business degree from UNCW. And in the business world of finance and mortgages right now.
Mark: Okay. What did you do in the Marine Corps? What was your specialty…?
Eric: Yeah. So I was attached to an amphibious assault unit. So I was Amtracker and so you know, we played a lot in the water. Nothing near what Navy SEALs do, but definitely spent a lot of time in the water.
I did my training all out in Southern California, and then I did my enlisted time with my unit up here in North Carolina. And the experience was–I mean, transformative and life-changing. The invaluable skills and lessons and just the growth of character and who we become as men in life really is forged through these and many of the other journeys we go through in life.
Mark: I imagine there’s not a day go by where that Marine Corps and that military experience doesn’t influence your thinking in some way. I mean, that’s certainly my experience as a SEAL. They say “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”
Eric: Absolutely. I made that mistake when I first got out and said to a USO that I was “ex-marine.” I was quickly corrected. It’s always “Former.”
Mark: (laughing) That’s awesome.
So let’s talk about the Greece experience. We didn’t know each other before then. I feel like really connected to both of you guys. We could come together and do anything. Like teammates. And we only spent 8… Well, 10 days if you count the travel and whatnot. Give us an idea of what your experience was. How did you hear about it? What was your motivation for going there? Let’s start there.
Eric: Yeah, so I got a really good buddy of mine back here, Steven Foxworth, he introduced me to SEALFIT originally. Which indirectly had me start learning about the organization and kind of what you’ve been doing in the past there, Mark.
And you know, its part of that statement we were hearing why we were over there. It’s mastery of self. So then we can master the service we have to others.
And I still have a long way to go on that journey, so the SEALFIT component was what brought me into kind of a physical aspect of it. But then I got the Unbeatable Mind book and kind of looked at some of the other stuff. We’ve got to master ourselves mentally as well. And that’s probably one of the more challenging things I have in my life. We talked about the Monkey brain and things like that.
But… so, for me I was just looking to be involved with something that was challenging me to grow and be better. And I was getting that. But then, you know, I got an email from Jon Atwater and he had introduced to me the Courage Foundation piece that you guys were spinning out underneath your SEALFIT umbrella. And I’ve… again, I gave it in my background. I grew up in a community where there were a lot of other people who took an interest in your development and growth. And it’s immeasurable the impact these people have on your lives. And by getting that you then have this great calling internally to do the same thing, right. And being 41, I’m getting to that point in the journey where hopefully I’m giving back as well as taking from those who are mentoring.
And so working with veterans, I work with non-profits. This was a non-profit endeavor. And working with veterans again, being a veteran, was near and dear to my heart. So made a few phone calls, did some fund-raising. And then joined you guys on the trip. So that’s kind of the background in why I was looking at doing it. And how I got turned onto it.
Mark: Terrific. Let me take a moment to just provide folks some context around the Courage Foundation. So the foundation is something I’ve wanted to do for several years. And finally we pulled it together last year.
Jon Atwater who was interestingly my former head brewer at Coronado Brewing Company. Then he became my president. He had suffered a broken neck when he was younger. So he was always a little bit–with his recovery he was a little bit incapacitated but still pretty functional. And then he broke his neck again, 3 years ago. And after that, you know, it was difficult for him to go back to his work. At that time, he was a professor at a college. And so I offered for him to come in and be my… to help me out at SEALFIT.
And then when I launched the Courage Foundation… so the Courage Foundation came out when I had someone I could trust to basically take the reins of it.
And so we launched it with Jon as the initial administrative and executive director of the foundation. And so a lot of the… so I didn’t have to get to into the weeds with the day-to-day. Cause I didn’t really have the time.
So the idea of the Courage Foundation is to bring Courage and healing back to populations who aren’t whole. Who have been broken in some way. We don’t use that term on our website… but people who need healing and support, starting with veterans. We also do some work with the prison population. I’ve donated a ton of books into the prison population.
But really, really passionate about working with vets who are suffering from PTS because… I don’t know how many people know this out there, but it’s a huge problem. It’s an epidemic. And Ilya… when we get to talk to him… he works in the VA system now. He can tell us more about it. But I think I understand that, like, 22 vets a day or there abouts are committing suicide. That’s a massive, massive problem that we’ve all got to do what we can. Right, Eric? To help solve. So I honor you for doing that. And I really appreciate you.
Eric and Fundraising
Mark: Tell us about… so you raised money so that you could support Ilya and Drew and also Daniel who went over there… they didn’t have any expenses. The Courage Foundation paid their airfare. You raised money. What was that experience like? And did you find some receptivity to that? Was it easy? Was it hard? How’d you do it? And then let’s get into the experience of Greece. What hit you? And what were the highs and lows of that?
Eric: Yeah, so interesting statistics you point out there from the VA. Being a veteran myself. I had no idea 22 vets a day is what they’re saying and over half a million with PTS at this given moment. And you know, we’re going to have an enduring need for quite some time, given the conflicts and campaigns that we’re a part of.
And as far as the fundraising piece went… You know, it wasn’t necessarily a challenge, but I think for anyone getting into it from the start or it’s new to them, it would absolutely be probably… well, let’s just be frank… I think a lot of people find it to be insurmountable and never even take up these endeavors. They want to do something, but they really don’t know how, or where, or when to do things.
But I’ve got a background in non-profits as an executive leader, and I’ve done different fundraising campaigns and things like that.
So picking up the phone with a new organization. That was probably the only beginning obstacle I had. But, look, with anything… when you add validation behind it. And you guys have obviously been vetted as a non-profit. You have your ID number.
And then some of the donors I was raising money with personally are big dollar donor. We had a $20,000 raise per person, and I got half of that from just one donor. Who will more than likely be re-occurring.
So the reason I point that out specifically is you guys have approval through Fidelity and different arms or organizations of investment institutions like that. Which just gives a big catalyst in making it that much easier. So really I was very fortunate. Make a few phone calls. Had some people who the organization being vetted already parted their investment endowment entities. So it was much easier than I thought.
Another thing we did… we threw a party here at the house and took a different approach. And we did pick-picking, we had a band, but instead of charging people a plate fee or a cover charge if you come in like you’ll see traditionally with a lot of things… again, being new I was just wanted to throw a party and have people come over and get exposed to it in a very organic and natural way. About the organization. And we raised a few thousand off of that event, just in itself. So humbling, really, if I was going to conclude to see your friends and people come together in the way that they do to be so gracious and giving.
However, I’m coming from a community of veterans. Right? So it’s not very hard to get them to have an appreciation for what we’re doing and a calling to help.
Mark: Yeah. And when you’re passionate about something you can move mountains, that’s for sure. And so we’re going to get more experienced in how to run these things next year. This year was just a beginning of trying to figure out how to raise awareness but also have a direct impact. And I think that’s important for us is how can we have a direct impact. It’s not good enough for me to just throw money at something. We’ve got to solve this mano a mano, you know what I mean? And also help other people solve it.
So let’s talk about Greece. The idea in Greece was… and you integrated so well because you were a veteran. And… but to basically journey together and through this journey, find inspiration through the Spartan’s experience. Plus our own trials and tribulations. So what were your high points and low points on this 300 kilometer trek?
Eric: Well, I’ll tell you. Initially signing up for it and seeing the physical demand of what we were doing… I like to consider myself a functional athlete. I play ice hockey 3 nights a week… I do SEALFIT workouts. But I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near a proficient athlete, let alone an industrial athlete as Navy SEALs are in your group. 20:10
So, you know, it was mental, right? I just… I put a lot of mental road blocks about what I thought the experience was going to be like… a little bit anxious before coming. But once we got over there… we got locked into it. The physical part of it I definitely could have done better. But I know that’s on me. I could train better and I can get that end result. So that’s just the disappointment on lack of preparation.
But what was surprising to me, and what I didn’t expect to have was as much mental challenge. But a lot of those days were extremely enduring days, if you will. I wore my Fitbit, for example, and on our first half-marathon, our 3rd day in, which I think was one of the hottest days, by the way. Thankfully it only dry heat, not humid. But I ended up posting 18 miles on my Fitbit for that day. But, you know, I did a lot of running back and forth between the groups. And did a lot of walking as well.
Mark: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, it certainly wasn’t… it was 13 miles as the crow flies, right? But we were doing up-and-down, up-and-down.
Eric: (laughing) Yeah. So I definitely had some mental fortitude challenges if you will which were unexpected. But back to what we were talking about earlier… If we’re just going to talk about… you asking me what I was benefiting from it. The connections and the relationships, that’s the foremost thing after it.
Mark: Yeah, and also some of the actual events. Let’s help create a picture in the listeners’ minds of what types of things did we do. And what were some of the cool things? And where did you hit those low points? What was that like? As if they were there. Let’s see if we can tell a story…
Eric: Yeah, so obviously from a historical standpoint, starting out day 1 in Sparta under the statue of King Leonidas and we got a lot of pictures there. That was a… and just the outsized difference in you versus that statue too was a great… great metaphor for what we were stepping up to in the journey.
And we had… the first 2 days were rucks… you know, the rucking. You know, we had our daypacks on and stuff like that. Definitely some good elevation changes. I think we were going all the way from sea level up to 4 or 5,000 feet in elevation changes. So some of the uphill stuff maybe it was a bit taxing for some. I didn’t… the rucks themselves weren’t too bad. Other than getting into the middle of it, right?
Some days were starting at 9, 9:30 in the morning and we were going till 3:30, 4:30, 5 o’clock. So, you know, you get the 3, 4, 5, hours into things and you’re focused on the endpoint and not just the matter at hand in front of you. And that can kind of beat you down a little bit.
But then, you know, the 3rd day was the run. And then we got into 2 more days of rucking. And we did another half marathon. Those runs were definitely challenging. Going through some of the uphill-downhill. But the bike ride… like you said, 22 flat tires.
I think too though for me, specifically, getting focused on some of the low points. I’m always trying to lift others up, right? And try and distract them from their own pain. I point that out, because that was a great way for me to kind of be distracted from some of the longevity of what we were doing.
But what was even more cool about that whole experience was the connection you were making with those people who were helping you through that time. Or if you were coming back, and trying to get them to laugh and uplift them. Andrew and I did some funny things the last day, that… I don’t know if I should probably mention on the podcast. But we definitely had each other laughing and finished the downhill portion into the second half-marathon.
Mark: Right. So you spent a lot of time with Ilya and Danny and Drew. And Drew was having… You know, Drew… he wasn’t able to join us today, but he was having some breakdowns and… so what were some of the more interesting moments that you had working with the vets who were there, who were suffering from PTS? And what did you learn from it?
Eric: Well I can say, first and foremost, I’m very humble and gracious for them opening up to me. Ilya, I really appreciate that you did that. And, you know, Danny and Drew and Tom. But I think it’s a commonality for all of us, right? You have that experience. We’ve gone through the same training. Although I’m not a combat veteran, so I haven’t been to the same theatres they have. We all go through the same training. We get the same bonds forged. So there weren’t a lot of barriers to the beginning of those relationships.
So just seeing how open people were about what they were sharing. And I think… this is just my own personal philosophy, but whether it’s PTSD or some other debilitating issue you have in your life–whether it’s mental, physical or a combination of the two–as human beings, man, we all share a common bond. And we’re all on this planet kind of moving in the same direction. So when you can connect with other people and help them with their issues and help encourage them…
And it’s our own fear. Right? It’s that monkey brain you talk about…
Mark: Right. Is there any specific incident that stands out in your mind though? Anything that you could share that would help the listeners connect with…
Eric: Yeah. So Andrew… I’m sure you’ll get an opportunity to speak with him maybe in a later podcast. Give him the opportunity to tell this story. But I can tell you, Andrew was a Marine and then went over to the Army. So I absolutely had that connection with him from the Marine Corps.
And very much struggling from what I think… and this is just the very beginning for me, so I could be mis-speaking here. Anyway, you can talk to this later.
I see a lot of the debilitation of the obstacles put in the way, it’s survival guilt ship. We can all see some very chaotic things and barbaric and devastating things in our life. And carnage.
But it doesn’t seem to be so much that that’s impacting our vets as it is the survival guilt ship. Right? “My buddy didn’t make it back. I did.”
And Andrew especially had a circumstance with that. Where he was part of quick reaction force. His force went down. RPG hit a helicopter, took them all out. He was a few days away from going home. So he carries a lot of guilt about that. And I think specifically… and I don’t mean to mis-speak for Andrew here, but I’m just giving my perspective. I believe that he felt that he has in some way let his team down. And he’s struggling on how he gets past that.
And then… so for him to not make the first half marathon day with us because of dehydration. We all witnessed him throwing up there in the beginning. And he still gave it a try. You guys pulled him aside, medically, and said it was best he didn’t do it.
So that was a low-point. That I experienced with one of my fellow brothers. But then to see him the next day, lead us as you and John pushed him to the front to lead his team of people in Greece.
And then as I mentioned a little bit earlier, my highest of points was running with him and he ran a good part of that second Marathon. Especially our downhill descent where we went by King Leonidas’ watchtower and all that. It was just such a beautiful scene right there. And just, you know, the bond we’re having and the laughing and getting through that together. Those were… with Andrew… those were 2 moments in the trip where we had a low-point and a high-point. We shared some good times that were breakthroughs.
And to just follow up on that too, I’m still in contact with these gentlemen. And Andrew’s off doing other things. And he seems to be very happy. Moving in the right direction. As we know, this trip isn’t going to solve the issues we have just in a trip. It’s going to be the habits we do day-in and day-out. But he seems to be on the right track.
And I think what he’s going to ultimately do… what I’d like to see these guys do… and Ilya’s living it, doing it. And I’m thinking about going back and getting my Master’s in Social Work myself. Taking your experiences and overcoming them. And then you have the ability to go out and talk to other people and say, “Look, I’ve walked this walk. And I’m talking this talk. And I also help you get past that. And it’s the healing, that’s what we’re here for.
Mark: Right. Yeah, no kidding. So when you’re up… let’s fast forward this. You’re done with the program and what was going through your mind when we showed up at the second Leonidas statue in Thermopylae and then… and you knew that we had just completed this whole thing.
Eric: Well, so a whole host of emotions. Obviously in the beginning you’re very satisfied and you’re overwhelmed with joy because you got to the end of it. As far as the Greece trip went. Literally.
But then you start to reflect back a little bit on it and you know the journey’s over and it’s disappointing because it’s such a great time, and such a great group of guys. And then it starts to make you think, “Okay, what are these people’s journeys going to be like after we all leave here? And hopefully we stay in touch with other… but overall, it was obviously very, very satisfying. For us to get across there. Think I was getting a little too loud as we were coming in there at the end.
Mark: (laughing) That was pretty funny.
Eric: Yeah, definitely satisfying.
Mark: Anything that you feel like you’ve changed as a result of the trip? You just see things differently? Or you’ve decided to change…?
Eric: Yeah, yeah. So 2 things. It’s been a while… and this is probably not the greatest thing in my life. I need to get doing some different things. But it’s been a while since I’ve had some mental challenges. Right? To that level. Where I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do something or accomplish it. So to get that reinforcement of success through execution. That’s great.
But the biggest thing… and this is again… I gotta tell Ilya, thank you very much for his experiences, for opening up and becoming my friend. And with what he’s doing specifically and Danny and Andrew can back this up as well. I’ve always had an interest in people. And I started out after I got out of the Marine Corps with a business degree from UNCW as I mentioned earlier. And I was a double-major in psychology as well. And I just happened to finish my business degree a semester before my psychology degree. And it’s funny or ironic really, how in a blink of an eye, 15 years can go by. And I’m in a career in the business world.
And, look, that’s all fine and dandy and making money and getting promotions and having success inside a corporate aspect or world. You know, it only does so much. And for me, I feel a calling and a greater good or purpose and maybe it’s the heart of a healer. I don’t know.
But in this journey, what these guys have helped me do is… look, I’ve been very anxious searching for a purpose. And to get refocused on the fact that I can do something with veterans and switching a little bit. Psychology you have to have such a deep dive in that. And there’s a lot of research. And you’re probably getting a PhD. And you’re 3 inches wide and 60 feet deep, right?
Whereas with counselling and social work, you can be more of a relationship manager and a friend to these people and just support them and get them through some of the first steps. “Hey, there’s other people out there like you. And there’s people here to support you.” And it’s given me a new calling in life. Right?
Actually, I’ve already got a 10 year plan set. It’s going to take me 3 years to do the distance program over at Chapel Hill to complete their program. And they’re 5th in the nation, I think, for their programs. They also work indirectly with the Durham VA hospital up here. And they do their internships up through there. So that’s my new focus and goal, is to get into the VA and work as a counselor. But I gotta complete some continuing education on that first.
Mark: Right. Wow. That’s cool. So you found a whole new…
Eric: Plus working with the Courage Foundation as well, too. So that’s great thing, a great cause.
Mark: Yeah. I appreciate that. I’m looking forward to working with you on that too.
Mark: All right, so let’s shift focus. Ilya, thanks for joining me today. Now, Ilya, why don’t you give us a little background. I mentioned earlier that you grew up in Lithuania. I thought that was really interesting. Not many people know about that part of the world.
Your father became a political refugee and then you guys moved to Minnesota.
So let’s pick it up from there. What was your early life…? How did you get in the military? And what was that like?
Ilya: So, yes, I grew up on a military base, and then we moved to Minnesota. I went to school. I had a difficult time fitting in so I dropped out of high school. And I think I wasted maybe a year or two just not doing a whole lot of anything.
And at that point I decided to check out the military. I was thinking I had nothing to lose. See what they have to offer and also maybe pay for college down the road. So that’s what led me to enlisting.
And… Go ahead.
Mark: So that was Army? You went to the Army. What year was that?
Ilya: I signed up in 1998. And I was in reserve for a couple of years. Then I left and I got called up in 2004 to IRR.
Mark: Right. And then you went to Iraq from there?
Ilya: We went to Kuwait to stay there for a few months. And then we crossed into Iraq in early 2005. We went to Tikrit. Cob Speicher. And did different things there. We did QRF, we did Base Security. And then after a few months, we started doing convoys.
That’s how I got injured. I was a .50 Cal gunner on a Humvee. And I got thrown off from the hatch. After that, I can’t remember a whole lot, but from what my buddies tell me, I was trying to talk Russian to them when they were trying to take care of me.
They put me up in the chopper. Took me to Balad and I think the Australian surgeons took my spleen out and then they sent me to Germany I think. I was in Germany for a little bit. Then Walter Reed. Then a couple more hospitals, then that was pretty much it.
Mark: Geez. So was your convoy hit by EID, or…?
Ilya: Not that day, actually. No. What happened is our driver decided to ram a vehicle. I had a chance to shoot it, but I didn’t think it was worth it. I wasn’t sure if it was a threat, but our driver thought it was. And I guess we… the Humvee flipped in the process of eliminating that vehicle.
Mark: Doesn’t sound like that was a great decision.
Ilya: Yeah, I didn’t think it was. The guy disappeared on us. He’s nowhere to be seen. I want to tell him a few things, but…
Mark: Oh, geez. You mean the driver…?
Ilya: Right, right.
Mark: Okay, so you ended up with a traumatic brain injury. Is that right? And a lot of broken bones, and you lost your spleen.
So what was the recovery like for you?
Ilya: The recovery was tough because I was separated from the unit. And it was very chaotic. I was taking a lot of morphine and everything’s a blur. I went from one hospital to another. And then I was sent home. I was still taking a lot of opiates. It was just a difficult time adjusting back to civilian life. Because I really didn’t have any skills and my mind was sort of like, missing a link. Thoughts were misfiring, and just didn’t seem right.
Mark: You know, I have to say, I just saw the movie “Thank You for Your Service.” I don’t think it’s out yet. It’ll probably be out by the time this podcast posts, but it was produced by Jason Hall, who was involved in the movie “American Sniper.”
Anyways, they did a really good job of showing exactly what you’re talking about. They followed these vets who had, you know, traumatic experiences and were suffering from PTS and how their family lives were just imploding and they had difficulty concentrating, and they lost memory and they were waking up in the middle of the night with these, like, intense images of… Flashbacks I guess you’d call that. And they were short-tempered with their family.
I mean, all these things that sounds like you experienced too. And how hard it was to operate within… The VA system, let’s just say, didn’t… from the movie, didn’t seem like it was doing anybody any favors. You know? They were good at issuing drugs, but they weren’t really helping. Healing.
Ilya: No, definitely. I felt… I really didn’t know much about the VA because when I got discharged, I went straight home. Away from my unit. And what you’re speaking about it very true. I have very little patience and creating distance between you and family members. I was in a relationship for about 6 years that ended right there. All my friends were saying I was angry. I didn’t see it that way, but everything changed, definitely.
And it was hard to find how to turn that switch off.
Mark: Right. Yeah, you just didn’t have the tools. And the drugs were just numbing it, right?
Did you have issues with… another big issue is depression and suicidal thoughts. Did any of it affect you at all?
Ilya: Depression, yeah. Big time. Yeah, a lot of times I just… Yeah, I didn’t have any reason to really go on because after my daughter’s mother and I split, it was really tough to see that part of my life go.
Mark: Mm-hmm. I bet. Wow.
So was there a turning point for you? What kind of helped you haul yourself up by your bootstraps and then go… this is all before Greece. Go work for the VA or think that you could help others by working at the VA?
Ilya: Well, I figured that if I’m struggling so much, maybe I can be one to help others. And that was what my driving force was. I experienced it so now I know what’s going on. So I just figured I need to find a way to make myself useful to others. And that was by going through school.
Mark: Yeah. I’ve heard that quite a bit. A lot of times. To Eric’s point–there’s that guilt– but another part you felt such a sense of purpose in the military and you were supported with this team that were like your brothers. They are brothers in arms. And when you come back not only are you suffering from the stress and the injury, but now you don’t really find that same level of team or purpose.
And I think that’s a real problem. And so you found purpose by going back and helping other vets. You said you went to school and you got a counselling degree, is that right?
Ilya: Right. First I went to school to finish a 4 year degree for social work, and then I did the same with Master’s degree in Social Work.
Mark: Oh, no kidding. Good for you.
Ilya: Thank you.
Mark: And then you took that to the VA and they hired you?
Ilya: Actually, no. There was quite a bit of jobs in between because the VA wanted me to have some experience. And I worked at a psychiatric hospital. Methadone treatment center. Couple of other things. And finally got to the VA.
Mark: So let me just ask before we get into Greece, what do you do at the VA now?
Ilya: Right now, I work with homeless veterans trying to get them housed and reintegrate them into the community.
Mark: Okay. Excellent.
And so do you see the VA getting better at supporting vets? Or we still have some of the same problems that were shown in the movie that I just saw.
Ilya: It’s tough to say. I think the VA’s trying. But always there are new problems that come up. It’s almost like whacking a mole.
A Therapeutic Hike
So let’s talk about… how did you hear about the Spartan challenge that we did with the Courage Foundation?
Ilya: Sure. I got an email saying, “Are you interested in therapeutic hike?”(laughing) And I envisioned a leisurely hike and I thought “yeah, why not?”
So then the emails started coming in saying you have to walk 30 miles and run. And I was like, “Hmm. Doesn’t sound so therapeutic.” But I started training for it. And once I started training I was really feeling good. Just brought back sense of purpose, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this thing.”
And I was afraid I’ll be in the worst shape, but I was telling myself, “You know you have to try. If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.” And that was my… those were my thoughts in the morning every day. I would walk to work and I’d ride a bike instead of driving a truck. That was one way of getting in shape.
So that really motivated me once I found out about this. And once it got close, I started looking for reasons not to go. To kind of sabotage it. And I’m saying, “Everybody’s coming. I need to stay here for the family. I’m going to miss my daughter’s birthday. I shouldn’t do this.”
But I think I was just afraid.
Mark: Right. I think that’s pretty normal. I’m glad you stuck it out…
Ilya: Me too. It was awesome. So glad I went.
Mark Yeah. What were some of the high and low-points for you?
Ilya: High-points was just camaraderie every day. Going through the same stuff together. That was one of my high-points.
Also, I remember running on top of the hill and just hearing the wind. And Danny was right next to me. I could hear him run. Just his breath and his feet hitting the ground. And it was just awesome. We kept going like that it seemed like forever.
Mark: Yeah. There were some amazing flow moments, weren’t there? You just really just get very present and quiet and just go.
Mark: That can be very healing too, huh?
Ilya: For sure. I mean, I think being in the moment I think is the most healing thing you can do. Instead of looking back or forward. And what I heard was foot stomps and that was awesome. Just the wind and our feet stomping the ground. It was the best.
Mark: How did you like the training we did before and after a ruck-run?
Ilya: (laughing) I knew it was good for me. I mean, after…
Mark: (laughing) You think that we’re going to do 300 burpees…
Ilya: (laughing) I was like, “Man, I hope today they’re going to be tired or they’re going to change their mind. Just drink beer.”
But once we got to it, I knew it was good. And I felt… again, I felt at peace and present. So getting past that laziness was good.
Mark: Yeah, overcoming the resistance. So what about the Big Four skills? Did you find yourself using those on the ruck? Cause we talked about those quite a bit in the morning routine, and we prepped. And we briefed it during the ruck, you know? Did you find yourself relying on those?
Ilya: For sure. One of the things that you talk about is feeding the Courage Wolf. And that’s what got me through it. I think in Greece I learned to seek positive experiences and just things to kind of grab onto and build off of. Instead of dwelling on pain or negative experiences. Just brush them aside and look for bright, positive stuff. And just breathe and be in the moment. Be present.
Those are some very good things that I took away from Greece.
Mark: Yeah. Was there any particular day or moment or event or interaction that really, really struck you or was like an “a-ha” moment for you? Or that when you think back is just burned in your memory?
Ilya: Yeah, I remember just when I had 5 blisters. And you asked for Greek names. And I think my Greek name was “Blisterus Maximus.”
Mark: (laughing) That’s right.
Ilya: Yeah, that particular day I just hated every step I took. I was angry. I wanted to hit someone. And I was just cussing everyone out in my mind. And then I just started to think about my past and some of the negative behaviors that I engage in. And just a lot of things became clear as to my daily routines. How they contribute to some of the negative feelings.
I know it’s a very general description. Without going too specific.
Mark: I get that though. Because you have a lot of time to reflect, and so you’re able to contrast what was happening over there with maybe the way… some of the patterns that defined your life back stateside.
And so from that what changes did you make? And what’s different now?
Ilya: Well, I think it’s the simplest thing is just to look for positives. And again, disregard all the negatives. Once I realized that I’m engaging in a destructive thought, to stop it. And redirect it. It takes effort but it’s well worth it for me.
Mark: Yeah. Very cool.
Would you do it again?
Ilya: I’d do it every year if possible. It was such a great experience. Yeah, definitely.
Mark: That’s cool.
Ilya: Thank you guys for putting it together. And Eric, thank you for raising the money.
Mark: Yeah, it was a cool team effort. We couldn’t have done it…we couldn’t have brought the vets without raising the money. And so Eric and then Travis was another fellow who raised $20,000. Big commitment to do that.
And then, Ilya, you know… I definitely appreciate your desire to get back and work with other vets. You know, like I said, this is gotta be such a huge team effort. So, you know, for me to kind of wrap this thing up is a) to honor you both for stepping up to the challenge. Honoring all warriors ancient and modern. We’re dealing with our modern warriors, but I can imagine what the Spartans went through when they and their teammates were basically walking toward their certain death.
And to help heal. And I think with us, I’d like to help people be more resilient going into combat so that they can maybe heal faster. Or it doesn’t land as hard.
But also working through the Courage Foundation, with both your guy’s help, and others to both raise awareness.
To provide a vehicle for people to get involved. Because Eric, it was transformative for your to be involved in raising money and awareness. And now it’s given you a new purpose. I think there’s a lot of people like you, who want to help.
But just writing a check isn’t enough. And I think that’s like old-school philanthropy is write a check and hope that it does some good. I hope that… my goal is that we can do a little bit better than that.
But if writing a check is all you can do, that’s great. I’m not putting that down. I’m just saying we need all angles. This is an integrative approach. We need people to help fund programs for vets, we need to raise awareness. And then we need the direct contact to help vets find purpose and that community. And to overcome the grief and get them off the meds. Right, Ilya? That’s critical, isn’t it?
Ilya: Yeah. For sure it’s just a Band-Aid.
Mark: Yeah. Totally. I mean when you think about it–everything that we did every morning… the breath practice itself, the silence, the being in nature, finding a community, and doing challenging things again. Finding that purpose.
I mean, those are the way you heal. It’s not by doping up on OxyContin or something like that. That doesn’t do anything. That just exacerbates the problem.
Mark: Thank you very much gentlemen. Really appreciate you being here. Honor your military service and also your service working with vets. And your support of the Courage Foundation. It was huge. I really, really appreciate it.
Eric: Yeah, well we appreciate as well, Mark. And, you know, your service to our country is a heavy debt of gratitude to you as well.
Ilya: Yes, thank you guys both for your service and this great program. It was eye- opening.
Mark: That’s awesome. Thank you very much guys.
All right, folks. Thanks very much for listening today. We heard from Eric Colburn and Ilya. And we’re going to hear more from those guys, I think, down the road. Cause they both are doing great work. And they’re going to help a lot of vets out. And so if you want to be involved in the Courage Foundation… I mean, this podcast was meant to be inspiring and to help spread the word about some of the things that we did in Greece. Cause people are interested. But also, you know, the Courage Foundation is pretty new. if you have an interest in getting involved or raising money or being involved in an event like this next year or something like that, please reach out to Jon. [email protected].
And he’ll probably bounce you to Eric. (laughing) Cause Jon’s got a lot on his plate too.
But any rate, we’d love to get your help. And also you could just stay apprised of the emails that we got coming out. Cause we use the same community as Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT with the Courage Foundation so I know folks are already getting that information.
At any rate, thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it. And until next time on the Unbeatable Mind podcast, this is Mark Divine. Stay focused. Train hard. And find some way to support our vets.
Coach Divine out.