HARMONY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Brandy Horchak-Jevsjukova and her husband, Vitalijs Jevsjukovs, hope to shine some light into dark corners with the launch of the Will of the Warrior program for disabled veterans and first responders.
The couple, military veterans who met on the battlefield more than 10 years ago, announced the program during the grand opening of their new boxing gym, Warriors' Call Boxing, in Harmony Township on May 30.
"The whole goal is to find those veterans and first responders who are in the shadows," said Horchak-Jevsjukova, 37, of Baden.
The idea for the free WOW program came after Horchak-Jevsjukova, an Iraq War veteran, began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after the couple moved back to the area in 2012.
As her bouts of depression, anxiety and anger persisted, her home life began to suffer. That's when Jevsjukovs, who met his future wife and served with her in Operation Enduring Freedom, suggested that she box, a sport she has loved since a young age, when she used her father's heavy and speed boxing bags.
Within months, her symptoms became less severe, and home life for the family of five returned to normal.
"We found ... a miracle," Horchak-Jevsjukova said. "It's like a secret, and we can't keep it."
Upward of 20 percent of soldiers who were part of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for PTSD, a problem characterized by recurring symptoms as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD can affect anyone.
"As infantry and security force members, we both performed law enforcement, security and unexploded ordnance details," Horchak-Jevsjukova said. "While deployed, we experienced many scenes and acts which, as humans, we have no way of preparing for emotionally."
Jevsjukovs fully supported his wife when she wanted to quit her well-paying, administrative day job and was eager to open a boxing gym, creating a safe haven for the disabled, who are often overlooked, in the process.
"It was great. Through (the) gym, we've met great people. It's all coming together, physically and mentally," said Jevsjukovs, 40, who is originally from Latvia. "We've worked on this building 24/7. It's our job every day. All of our money and savings are in this."
Horchak-Jevsjukova, an Ambridge Area High School graduate, said the only way to raise awareness about PTSD and to help disabled veterans and first responders begin the healing process is by talking about it. She commended the community members who were at the initial opening last month, along with the Vietnam Veterans of America, while police cars, ambulances and firetrucks flashed their lights and blasted sirens in support as they drove past.
"Overwhelming. I'm very proud of our community. I wasn't sure that they were going to react the way that they did, and they didn't let us down," Horchak-Jevsjukova said. "They didn't let the veterans or the first responders down."
She said she wanted their program to include first responders because they risk their lives for the sake of others stateside.
"They always get passed over," Horchak-Jevsjukova said. "They're out there giving their lives every day."
The WOW program provides free training and classes to those interested, and after the program is complete, the gym will pay for any certifications, training or classes necessary for participants who are interested in becoming trainers or instructors. The goal of the program is to help those in need train, heal and find a way to transition themselves back into civilian life.
Regular gym hours are 6:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. It will also be open for three hours Saturday morning. Classes for all ages are available.