From PTSD to Ultramarathoner, The story of Brandon Kuehn

by Chateau Mangaroo and Brandon Kuehn

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as it is more commonly known, affects many of our military service members. Additionally, coping with PTSD can often times be a scary and overwhelming experience, and because of its negative stigma, service members frequently suffer in silence instead of reaching for help. AMVETS member Brandon Kuehn, (Dept. of WA), is a former soldier who decided he no longer wanted to be a victim of his PTSD, opting to take control of his life through physical activity.

Brandon after finishing a recent race with Team RWB

Brandon’s journey began in 2008 when he found out he had a spinal injury that prevented him from continuing to serve in the Army. Because he had dreamed of serving for 20+ years, and subsequently retiring from the Army, this news devastated him. To make matters worse, he could not perform many normal physical activities because he could further injure his spine. Doctors told him to refrain from physical activity, which left Brandon doing nothing.

Nearly two years later, in June 2010, Brandon experienced a “come to Jesus” moment during a physical therapy session. He had gained a large amount of weight, coming to nearly 300 pounds and a worsened back injury because of the added weight. His therapist heartbrokenly told him that if he didn’t lose the weight, he would soon require a wheelchair. Brandon chose the healthier option of losing the weight, and, after four years, had lost just under 60 pounds. His progress, although impressive, did not last. Brandon slid back into his destructive habits with the overwhelming symptoms of his PTSD, and drank heavily while eating a poor diet, leading to weight gain and insurmountable depression.

In an unexpected turn of events, after almost seven years of not having seen each other, Brandon and his old squad leader, Thomas Lee, met for a drink. During the meeting, the two soldiers discussed Brandon’s weight problem and Thomas introduced him to Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB), a veteran service organization a veteran’s organization which promotes veteran outreach mainly through physical activity amongst other thingsa veteran’s organization which promotes veteran outreach mainly through physical activity amongst other thingsthat promotes veteran outreach mainly through physical activity. Thomas explained the camaraderie between men and women of Team RWB and the support system it could offer. Brandon felt that the meeting between old friends was not just chance, and trusted the leadership and advice of Thomas. After his first meeting with Team RWB, Brandon was hooked. 
 
 At the first meeting, which happened to be a run, Brandon met Ryan Anke, a run leader for Team RWB Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Through conversation, the two got to know each other and Ryan soon learned of Brandon’s fitness goals and his dream of returning to an active lifestyle. Ryan stayed with Brandon on his first run and helped him complete a mile in almost 18 minutes. For many seasoned runners, this may be considered a slow time, but for Brandon, this was a true breakthrough. No more was a wheelchair a possibility for his future; for Brandon, this mile meant everything. Brandon and Ryan ran together several times a month, and after just 30 days, Brandon could run three miles at a 12 minute pace — a huge improvement. As the two continued to work on Brandon’s run time, Ryan challenged Brandon to run an official 5K race. After vigorous training and a great support system, Brandon finished the Saint Patty’s Day 5k in Seattle in 27:01 (which is below nine minutes a mile).

Brandon realized running made him happy and he wanted more time, more distance, and “more happy.” To continue his progress, Brandon registered for the Seattle Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon with Team RWB. Once again, the same Soldier who was told a few years ago he would not be able to run again had now completed a 26.2-mile race!

As he continued to run, he eventually stumbled upon trail running, which is where he truly found the peace and serenity he was looking for. During his trail run discovery phase, Brandon ran a few half-marathons and a 20 miler before deciding on his first ultramarathon. For those not too familiar with running terms, an ultramarathon is any distance over a marathon. The 50K is usually a runner’s first introduction to the ultramarathoning world, and Brandon was no different. He decided to compete in the Grandridge 50K in Issaquah, WA, and began training harder than he ever had before. On a cold and rainy day, Brandon finished the race; stopping halfway through to change his cold, wet socks into warm, dry ones. During the break, his body began to shut down, and he was so cold, that he did not want to continue in the 35-degree weather. Another runner came to his side after seeing Brandon from a distance, and ran with him until he could finish the race. Brandon was able to complete the ultramarathon with flying colors, completing the biggest test of his running career.

Brandon and members of Team Red White and Blue

Now that he has broken into the ultramarathoning world, Brandon wants to continue challenging himself with longer races such as a 100-miler, and has experienced incredible breakthroughs in dealing with the symptoms of his PTSD. Though this journey will never be over for Brandon, he has found a way to channel his energy into something positive. If his story helps one veteran combatting PTSD to change his or her life for the better, Brandon has done what he set out to do. Not everyone likes to run, but there are many resources out there such as AMVETS and Team RWB and they are ready to help. You, too, can overcome your PTSD, just as Brandon did.