Local Men help Veterans and First Responders battle PTSD through recreational and vocational programs
Motorcyclists have long expressed that going for a ride is a stress reducing experience and essential for their mental wellness. The correlation between stress reduction and riding is supported by a study that Harley-Davidson funded with a small team at UCLA. Among the key findings from this study were that riding a bike decreased hormonal biomarkers of stress by 28%, and on average, riding a motorcycle for 20 minutes increased participants’ heart rates by 11% and adrenaline levels by 27% — similar to light exercise.
Working on motorcycles can be therapeutic as well. It can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as one fixes and improves the bike’s performance. Many find the physical act of working with one’s hands to be meditative and calming, allowing for a focus on the present moment and a quieting of the mind. This can be especially helpful for those who struggle with anxiety or depression.
These truths led Luke Young and Ben Hendricks, both veterans, to open The Garrison Speed Shop. Young, who makes his home in Hopkinton, served in the US Army, and was twice deployed to Iraq. His service ended in 2004, and like many veterans, he found it difficult to adjust to civilian life.
“Being deployed to a combat zone is like riding at 110 mph,” said Young. “Your body is filled with adrenaline all the time. And when you come home, it’s like sitting in your driveway with the engine in neutral and the throttle revving and you’re just not going anywhere.”
Young and Hendricks (who lives in nearby Uxbridge) became fast friends through a Veteran/Law Enforcement riding club. Hendricks served for eight years in the Coast Guard attached to Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) and deployed to various locations in the Middle East.
“When I got home I realized I missed the camaraderie of working on a team. I struggled to find my path,” said Hendricks. Leveraging the G.I. Bill, he graduated from Assumption College as a rehab counselor. He landed a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in his spare time he worked on his motorcycles, which he’d ridden all his life.
But something was missing.
“I wanted to help my fellow veterans,” said Hendricks. “I knew there was a lot I could do from an education perspective to help them adjust to civilian life.”
He discussed his idea with Young over coffee one morning, and Young (who owned a successful landscaping business in Hopkinton) was immediately in. They wanted to build a place where veterans and first responders could work on their motorcycles, learn critical life skills, and be surrounded by people who understood the challenges of adjusting.
Most importantly, they agreed it had to be a nonprofit.
“We wanted to build a community hub,” said Hendricks. “A place that’s not just about working on motorcycles and learning how to weld, but where vets and first responders can get help with their resume, network with local businesses, and make connections.”
A garrison (from the French garnison, itself from the verb garnir, “to equip”) is any body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it.
It is an apt description. The Garrison Speed Shop, which is located on Uxbridge Road in Mendon, is in a word: cool. The shop is sparkling clean, with both vintage and modern Harley-Davidson’s occupying the bays (although all types of motorcycles and riders are welcome). It sits on a main road, with wide windows looking out, and it feels like a community center. There is a small office in the back where Young and Hendricks run the day-to-day operation of the nonprofit.
The clientele is diverse, from Vietnam veterans to local firefighters and police officers. The ages range wildly, from a 23-year old marine who recently returned from combat duty to retired soldiers who are now in their mid-70’s.
Although the The Garrison was built primarily for veterans and first responders, some services are open to civilians too. They offer hands-on, integrated training to help motorcycle owners learn everything from how to perform an oil change to custom welding and fabrication of parts. Civilians take part in these clinics as part of a group package where a veteran or first responder sponsors them. In addition, shop bays can be rented – all equipped with the state-of-the-art tools – for larger projects. Veterans and first responders can take advantage of the shop at a subsidized rate.
On March 7, The Garrison officially opened to the public, generously funded by several sponsors and supporters. In fact, everything in the shop – the lifts, tools, and supplies – was donated. One of The Garrison’s most generous supporters has been the Meehan Family of Millis, owners of the Imperial Dealerships in Mendon.
“There are nowhere near enough resources devoted to the well being of our veterans and first responders,” said Kevin Meehan. “The Garrison is a great step in helping veterans assimilate back to everyday life and find a skill or trade they want to pursue when returning home alongside other heroes.”
But money and equipment is only half of the story. The Garrison has been built through an army of volunteers who have done everything from construction of the space, equipment assembly, paperwork, repairs, and recruiting donors.
“It’s been incredibly organic,” said Young. “We’ve been so blessed to meet so many people who are generous with their time.”
As to how they arrived at their unconventional logo, Young explains. “It’s a gorilla. Guerrilla warfare is unconventional warfare, and we see this as unconventional warfare against PTSD and service trauma.”
Kicking off Riding Season
Last November, The Garrison hosted around 250 riders and families for an open house. On April 15, to celebrate the start of the riding season, the team is hosting the first annual Dust & Rust Guerrilla Rally from 10:00 – 3:00. The fundraising ride will start at the shop and wind through Uxbridge and Douglas before returning around noon. There will be a silent auction, raffle, food, bike detailing, and games for the kids. Everyone is welcome, and more information is available on their website.
“I love these guys”
During this interview a visitor dropped in. Originally from West Virginia, Dave lives in Whitinsville and spent six years in the Marine Corps. He was drafted in 1972, deployed to Vietnam, and finished his service in 1978.
“I had a hard time when I came home,” he said. “It’s hard for me to talk about it, but I had a lot of problems. I mean, what you do as a combat vet…you have to do what you gotta do, but it’s terrible.”
Dave still struggles with the nightmares from his time deployed.
“This is my therapy,” he said. “I love these guys. These gentlemen here, they worked their tail off to get this place like it is. I mean, God bless both of ’em. I mean, the time, the effort they put in this place to take care of our brothers and sisters, they deserve a lot of credit.”