ARLINGTON, Texas — Veterans seeking to help fellow veterans ease their PTSD symptoms have long known that time on a motorcycle -- and the brotherhood and sisterhood that comes with it -- can be a successful treatment method.
Now, researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are working to prove how it really works.
"I love this bike. You can get on it and ride for miles," Don Nguyen said of his 2016 Harley Road Glide. The Marine veteran, and one of the founding members of the One Tribe Foundation in Dallas, says motorcycles have been a part of his life since he was 13 years old.
"You know I'll tell you why I ride a bike," he said when asked about why he loves it so much. "It's because I enjoy it."
"You drove your car here this morning. I rode my bike here this morning. I had fun. Did you have fun," he asked me.
"Dude, I'm driving a Ford Escape," I said of the company car I'd driven to meet him in a UT Arlington parking lot.
"You look like a cool dude and all," he said as we both laughed. "But I'm just saying I had a good time riding my bike here this morning."
That's why the One Tribe Foundation, which helps military veterans with issues like PTSD, includes a "wind therapy" program.
Originally known as 22 Kill and dedicated to help end the plague of veteran suicides, the Carry the Load partner organization found that if veterans on motorcycles can focus their attention on the road ahead that they can't dwell as much on the demons that might be chasing them.
The bond created with other veterans has proven a successful coping mechanism, as well.
"It just kind of helps them be in the moment," said One Tribe Foundation member Jodie Yblood. "All the problems and things get left behind for a little bit while you're riding."
"I believe that riding a motorcycle is essential for many people's healing process and how they cope with mental health and stress in general,": she added.
And now the scientists would like to prove why.
"What I got a lot was this just interest in caring for one another," UT Arlington graduate assistant Latisha Thomas said, alongside research partner Christine Highfill, of the initial survey results of veteran motorcycle riders.
The three-phase project, surveying veteran and non-veteran riders and eventually measuring the physiological effects of motorcycle riding, looks to "better understand the experiences of individuals who participate in an experience sometimes referred to as wind therapy."
Lead researcher Dr. Donna Schuman says they hope to study heart rate variability as a measure of stress and resilience
"What we're hoping that we find is that riding actually increases the veteran rider's resilience and their ability to manage stress," said Schuman, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at UTA.
But while the UT Arlington researchers hope to quantify and promote the positive effects of wind therapy, veterans like Nguyen will tell you he just knows that it works.
"You have to find those moments that remind you that you're still alive," he said of his time on a motorcycle.
And keeping veterans alive is, after all, the overriding goal.
If you'd like to find out more about the UT Arlington study, or would consider being a participant, you can find more information here.