- Associated Press - Sunday, October 18, 2015

EAST BERLIN, Pa. (AP) - It was a quiet, sunny Saturday morning outside Team Yohe MMA gym in East Berlin. Inside, Waylon Yohe was giving instructions on proper boxing technique.

“You have to be OK with getting hit and more than that, you have to be OK hitting someone else,” he said, sporting a black eye.

Yohe was talking to Jennifer Madden, an army veteran who traveled 90 minutes from Coatesville in Chester County to learn the basic techniques of mixed martial arts.

Madden takes the classes for free as part of Project Takedown, a new initiative that helps veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder study mixed martial arts as a way to relieve emotional stress.

Madden was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 as a paralegal and combat lifesaver in charge of security, she said. She worked on investigations as needed.

When Madden returned home at the end of that year, she was a shell of herself, she told The Evening Sun (https://bit.ly/1k6RsFT).

She struggled with depression and drug abuse, which led to her being homeless for three years and breaking off relationships with her boyfriend, friends and family, she said.

“Physically, mentally, emotionally; everything was different when I came back,” she said. “I was isolated, I was hypervigilant, I was constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the next fight, and that’s how I lived my life. It was complete fear every day.”

Around 2006, Madden was officially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health condition triggered by experiencing a terrifying event, according to the Mayo Clinic website. The disorder can cause emotional numbness and changes in mood, according to the clinic.

“I found out I had PTSD, that was a mindblower. It was a complete game changer,” she said. “Once I found that out and figured out why I had become who I had become, I started to get my life back.”

Garrett Roche, a Gettysburg resident, works for Gettysburg Transformer Corporation during the day and spends his free time training and promoting mixed martial arts, he said.

The Village to Village Foundation is an organization dedicated to providing resources for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and remembering soldiers who have died in battle, according to their website.

Village to Village Foundation members carry “pay it forward” tokens that have a picture of a fallen veteran on the back of them, Roche said. Roche held on to the token but didn’t know what to do with it, he said.

About a month ago, Roche decided to combine his enthusiasm for mixed martial arts and his desire to help veterans. That’s when Project Takedown was formed.

Roche works closely with the Village to Village Foundation to refer veterans to trainers near them who can teach free mixed martial arts sessions, he said.

Madden, however, learned of Project Takedown through Project Chaos, a similar initiative in New Jersey.

“The workout was great,” Madden said of her training at the East Berlin gym. “I have some health stuff, so at the very beginning I started not feeling really well so they took it down to my level to where I needed to be.”

Madden hopes to continue her lessons about every other week, she said.

It’s hard to have a set schedule because everything is volunteer based, Roche said.

Even Yohe, who owns the gym, is volunteering his time instead of training for an upcoming fight or giving lessons, he said.

Roche hopes that gym owners like Yohe will continue to rent out space in their gym’s for free. Meanwhile, he also is reaching out to local businesses to donate the necessary gear.

Madden was the first to participate in Project Takedown, Roche said, but he hopes that the word will spread.

“We want to get as many people as we can, especially in this area. We know there have to be vets around here who need help,” he said. “But we also want people calling in nationwide, we just want to be a referral network to help everywhere.”





Information from: The Evening Sun, https://www.eveningsun.com

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