Rock climbing

VetsClimb Climbing Club helps veterans overcome hardships

“It’s the mental and physical part,” said Navy and Army veteran Chris Butler. “When you’re on the wall, it’s like for me, nothing else matters.”

ATLANTA — As Americans head into Independence Day weekend, many are also honoring those who have sacrificed so much for the nation’s freedom.

For veterans, it’s rarely an easy road. But one Atlanta group connects servicemen and women in a unique way; by climbing.

“For me, it was an outlet,” said Chris Butler, climbing coordinator for the Atlanta branch of VetsClimb. “I spent six years in the Navy, two years in the Army. Been on two tours. Just, you know, it impacted me and my family, and here I am.

Now he’s sharing his newfound love of climbing with other veterans.

“Since discovering rock climbing, it’s helped open me up,” Butler said. “It gives me a goal, you know. I lost my goal for a while.

Veteran Ryan Ruzek recently joined the band for the first time.

“It’s my first period of climbing,” he laughed. “I hit three walls and got to the top of all of them, but I’m not going to give up until I fail a few times.”

Ruzek said his own experience in the military made him want to help out and connect with other veterans.

“I was in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantryman,” he said. “A lot of veterans struggle with PTSD. Everyone seems to want to do it on their own, that’s how we were raised.”

However, it is also in their nature to win.

“It’s the mental and physical part,” Butler explained. “When you’re on the wall, it’s like for me, nothing else matters.”

For Butler, leading the band is now his calling.

“I hope some of them will take it all their life and it will save lives,” he added.

After all, it’s what helps him move forward with his recovery and his family.

“My daughter climbs, she climbs with me pretty much all the time,” Butler said. “She’s actually better than me!”

In fact, 8-year-old Melia recently started a rock climbing nonprofit to increase access to the sport for all children.

When asked if he thought she was proud of him, Butler simply smiled and said, “Yeah.”

This is a peak worth reaching.

The VetsClimb Group meets every Tuesday from 7-9pm at the Stone Summit in Atlanta, 3701 Presidential Pkwy.

You can find out more at vetsclimb.org.

The organization is supported by Catalyst Sports, a non-profit organization that provides service men and women who have suffered physical or mental injury or illness the opportunity to participate in challenging adventure programs.

You can learn more about them or donate to their efforts here. You can also register as a volunteer here.