TWIN FALLS, Idaho (Tribune News Service) — It's parachuting with a purpose.
BASE jumpers plan to complete 22 jumps apiece Saturday off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls to bring attention to the scourge of traumatic brain injuries.
It's not a number picked at random, but symbolic for the estimated average number of U.S. servicemembers and veterans who take their own lives each day.
BASE jumping 22 times in a single day won't be an easy task, requiring focus, physical effort and skill, organizers say, but they believe it is an appropriate way to bring attention to people who have struggled with brain injuries.
An estimated 2.5 million people in the U.S. sustain traumatic brain injuries every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Besides the older adults and children, members of the military are vulnerable during combat or training exercises, and that is how the nonprofit group 22 Jumps was formed.
TBIs and post traumatic stress disorder often leave both servicemembers and civilians feeling hopeless as they live with debilitating symptoms and few treatment options, officials say.
22 Jumps founder Tristan Wimmer knows firsthand how devastating TBIs can be to families. In November 2015, after suffering for nearly a decade with a traumatic brain injury sustained in Iraq, his brother Kiernan took his own life.
In seven events held the last three years, in Idaho, Arizona and West Virginia, 22 Jumps has raised almost $230,000 for TBI research. Events were held the last two years in Twin Falls, and the group will be back on Friday, kicking things off with a speakers' series at 5 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre, with leaders in the field of mental health, physical health and TBI research.
Keynote speaker Ph.D. Allyson Gage, chief medical officer of Cohen Veterans Bioscience, will discuss the state of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder research.
Other speakers will include Dr. Amy Killen, Human Optimization Project; Dr. Carrie Esopenko, Mount Sinai Brain Injury Research Center; and Dr. Andrea Kalvesmaki, University of Utah Health.
Ticket price is $22.
At 7 p.m., a fundraising concert by Nashville-based musician Brandon Mills, known for his emotionally charged storytelling, will take place at Koto Brewing, 156 Main Ave. W. Admission is free, and Koto will donate a percentage of sales that night toward 22 Jumps.
BASE jumping will officially start at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Perrine Bridge, with the national anthem by Canyon Ridge High School graduate Savannah Slagel, who held a 22 Jumps event in 2021 as her senior project.
The motorcycle group Magic Valley Kingdom Kruisers will also ride across the bridge at that time, followed by "flag jumps," with BASE jumpers jumping and flying the flag of the United States and each branch of the military as well as one for Ukraine.
Cohen Veterans Bioscience will also have a booth and employees will be available to talk with the public about TBI and brain health.
Among the BASE jumpers are Maj. Theresa Nafis, F-35B pilot, U.S. Marine Corps; PO1 Kristen Jacobson, explosive ordnance disposal, U.S. Navy, Firefighter Carly Lucas of the San Jose Fire Department; and Michael Byrnes, 160th SOAR Veteran, U.S. Army.
BASE jumping holds a special place in Wimmer's heart. Brother, Kiernan, who had suffered the TBI in 2006 while serving in Al Anbar, Iraq, inspired him to become involved with the sport. In fact, Tristan relates that he was "mesmerized" the first time he saw his brother BASE jump.
Tristan said his family helplessly watched as his brother's brain injury deteriorated his quality of life, causing him to become emotional and violent. No amount of intervening, pleading, or outward expressions of love seemed to help. Kiernan refused to admit he had a problem and instead covered up vulnerability with bravado, impulsivity and alcohol, Tristan said.
To people closest to them, it was evident things were slowly becoming unglued.
Tristan hoped that through BASE jumping, the two, both Marines, could heal together.
Kiernan's tragic story is just one of thousands of veteran suicide stories over the past 20 years, said Tristan, who adds that there is a large body of evidence that supports a link between TBI and suicides.
(c)2023 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)
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