Rancho Santa Fe’s Ben Brown, a veteran United States Army Ranger and Purple Heart recipient, will take on the Kodiak Ultra Marathon in Big Bear Lake on Aug. 17-18. Brown is running the 102-mile race to support veterans, police officers and firefighters through his nonprofit 9 Week Warrior that he founded with his wife Chondra, helping wounded warriors reconnect to their minds and bodies to help return to happy, productive and fulfilling lives.
Brown himself is a wounded warrior, tapping into his family, exercise and philanthropic efforts as his ways to overcome the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With 9 Week Warrior, he hopes to help others do the same.
Out of their new facility in Carlsbad, 9 Week Warrior takes veterans, police officers and firefighters through nine weeks of personal training, yoga, massage, acupuncture and homeopathic treatment at no cost to them. Brown is running to attempt to raise $10,000 which will put four men or women though the program.
“Ben is a veteran, my dad is a firefighter and my brother is a police officer so it’s very close to home,” said Chondra.
Chondra said sometimes people overlook the fact that police officers and firefighters often suffer some of the same trauma as veterans. She once asked her father what his worst day was on the job and his answer was responding to an incident in which a baby was killed in a freeway accident.
“This is a breed of humans who are able to endure so much,” Chondra said. “Living through a traumatic event of any kind, it stays with you and every day you’re constantly reminded about what you went through. Your body remembers.
“Our goal is to help as many people in the best way that they can do it.”
Brown, a Torrey Pines High School graduate, was raised in Rancho Santa Fe and attended R. Roger Rowe School, where his mother Barbara was a teacher for 37 years. The father of six children, he is involved in the community, serving as the school lacrosse coach and a coach at Junior Dunkers. He also trains several young athletes and Rancho Santa Fe community members.
Last year with just a 50-mile ultra under his belt, Brown ran the 81-mile Badwater Ultramarathon with Rancho Santa Fe endurance athlete Mike Trevino and Solana Beach triathlete Katya Meyers, raising over $27,000 for 9 Week Warrior. The team finished third in the mixed division and seventh overall in 19 hours and 38 minutes.
Brown’s goal for the 102-mile Kodiak race is to finish in 30 hours.The 102-mile race is at over 7,000 feet in elevation and includes 17,000 feet of vertical climbing. Making the ultra a little more ultra-challenging is the fact that Brown is coming off a broken foot. After getting out of his boot, he has been training hard for the last eight weeks and is excited to go big in Big Bear, even as people marvel that the race seems “crazy” and always seem to be asking him:“Why?”
“Doing one step at a time, over and over, is healing for me. I want to show other veterans , police officers, firefighters, my children, the kids I coach or have coached and my community that anything can be accomplished when you set your mind in a direction,” Brown said. “I enjoy the process of working towards a goal. Movement gives me joy and I see the joy in others when they increase their movement. I hope to inspire others to move, I enjoy the growth I experience when I push myself and I know others can too.”
As a U.S. Army Ranger, Brown deployed in 2004 and was in Iraq for 15 months, leading missions that involved removing roadside bombs and enduring daily detonations on his vehicle and patrol. In one incident, he lost his driver after an IED exploded and his patrol came under a small arms fire ambush; in another he had to pull his squad leader out of a burning Bradley assault vehicle. His squad leader survived but lost his leg.
After he got out of the military in 2010, Brown struggled with flashbacks and PTSD and at his lowest point became suicidal, feeling like he had lost his identity.
Part of Brown’s remedy was to exercise, helping to heal his brain, heart and mind through activities like weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, Gut Check Fitness and for the last two years, some serious distance running. Some nights when he is unable to block out the sounds and images of IED explosions or fire fights, he throws on his shoes and runs around the golf course until he gets tired, sometimes for three-hour spells.
Brown still has challenges from his Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD—he has arthritic hips and very little sensation in his right leg from shrapnel being lodged in to it. Yet he continues to push.
Chondra serves as his caregiver and he gets help from his service dog Stella. He has found his “why” in his commitment to being a good husband and father and in helping others heal.
“Ben wakes up every day with purpose,” said Chondra. “His purpose is to help veterans, police and firefighters who are on a similar journey as he is.”
This time his journey, 102 miles, will be the farthest he has ever run.