HELENA — A veteran and active-duty gym called the Adaptive Performance Center (APC) has been awarded the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant through the Veteran’s Administration (VA).
This is the second time APC has received the grant since they first opened their Helena location less than a year ago which will help to expand the services they can provide to our nation’s heroes; adding occupational therapists, Veteran peer coordinators and more essential staff.
According to Eddie Aguasanta who retired from the Marine Corps as a lance corporal over a decade ago, APC helped him find a sense of community after retiring from service. Additionally, the struggles he faced after two heavy combat tours to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 were more centered around his mental health deteriorating.
“There was a deafening silence where there was nothing, but the sounds of all the things that were going on down there and all the people that were going on...” Aguasanta said. “...It clashed so harshly with the reality of being back home.”
He recalls attempting suicide when struggling with a slew of mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. He survived and knew he had to turn for help, seeking refuge in physical therapy he found a sense of belonging in personal fitness at APC.
According to the gym’s Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Karen Peterson who shared a love of physical fitness and mental health, she recognized the dire need veterans had for rehabilitating in a safe and welcoming environment where they could be themselves and feel accepted.
“Mitch and I saw a lot of holes in services that existed to the veterans,” Peterson explained. “One of the things that makes us a difference is if we don’t see you for a couple weeks, you get a phone call.”
She explains that in addition to someone becoming physically fit, a big mission of theirs is combating veteran and active-duty suicides. Acknowledging that Montana has an above-average rate when compared to the national rate of Veteran suicides.
Mitch Crouse, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of APC says between their first location located in Billings and the most recent location in Helena, they have almost doubled the number of members having a total of nearly 1400 service members who use their gyms.
“We have grown quite a bit and we have added a lot of things...” Crouse said.
Peterson explained while they aren’t trying to replace or recreate what the VA is doing just help support service members, the grant awarded to them this time around will make sure they stay established and continue their momentum in the realm of military support services.
“Thanks to this grant we were able to go from four of us, up to 17 employees in two locations,” she said.
For veterans like Aguasanata, that means being able to continue his passion for fitness; he now gets to do what he loves every day as the Helena gym’s manager, helping service members who enter the doors overcome any obstacles with love and support just as he once did.