Prairie Thousand hitting road for PTSD support dogs

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Cycling comes naturally for Rob Nederlof, so he’s more than happy to hit the road to help fellow soldiers with their mental health.

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Cycling comes naturally for Rob Nederlof, so he’s more than happy to hit the road to help fellow soldiers with their mental health.

He and his wife, Marina, are taking another road trip for their second annual Prairie Thousand, a fundraiser and awareness campaign for Wounded Warriors Canada. The couple are already en route to Edmonton, where Rob will cycle from the CANEX store just outside CFB Edmonton to Minnedosa, starting Aug. 11.

Currently serving the Canadian Armed Forces with the rank of sergeant, Nederlof said this is the second fundraising campaign for the veteran advocacy group’s support dog program.

Rob Nederlof. (Submitted)

With three tours of duty under his belt and his own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience, Nederlof currently works at CFB Shilo in base maintenance. Nederlof has witnessed people who suffer from PTSD through their own service.

“It isn’t pretty,” Nederlof said. “It’s a cause that’s near and dear to our hearts. We have destinations in mind, but we don’t have hard dates for where we will end up. This cycling campaign is running until Aug. 20.”

The idea of cycling as a fundraiser came to him after he was approached by a man who saw him cycling. Going on long rides is natural for Nederlof, but when the man said he thought he was doing a charity ride, Nederlof started to think about if he should, and which charity he would like to fundraise for.

The Wounded Warriors support dog program immediately came to mind, he said. He explained the program trains dogs to accompany soldiers as a type of therapy dog and early warning system for when they’re about to have an episode. The dogs are trained to detect when a person’s stress levels are increasing and are trained to intervene to calm them.

“These dogs are essential for a soldier’s mental health, as well as offer support for the spouses and children of these soldiers. They help whole families and communities,” he said. “It takes a long time to train them, though, and that’s expensive.”

The Wounded Warriors PTSD service dogs program has existed since 2012. It has given more than $3 million to training and pairing of PTSD service dogs, according to its website. The price tag to train a support dog is $15,000.

“We’re really in the midst of a mental health epidemic in the country,” said Wounded Warriors Canada national partnership director Steven Topham in a news release.

“Our supporters have allowed us to meet the growing needs of those we’re servicing. Rob and Marina have played an instrumental role in this. And the impact a service dog can have on an individual.”

Last year, the couple’s goal was $5,000 and raised just over $19,000. Rob left Wawanesa and covered 1,000 kilometres to Lethbridge in roughly two weeks.

This year’s goal is $7,000.

“We want to keep our goal conservative,” Nederlof said. “We’ve already raised $5,000, so this has been a great campaign this year. Anything after that is bonus.”

This year, Nederlof hopes to have the wind on his back as he covers just over 1,000 kilomeres during his two weeks of leave from CFB Shilo.

Funds raised for the Wounded Warriors Canada PTSD service dog program will go directly to the organization to train dogs.

But, the cost of the trip to Edmonton and back is coming out of the Nederlofs’ own pockets.

Last year’s support of the Prairie Thousand bike ride was overwhelming, the couple said, adding they’re hopeful the upcoming trip will garner as much support from local organizations and media along the way.

Just like last time, Marina said she will drive the support vehicle for her husband and manage social media posts from the side of the road and their campsites.

“It’s easier for me to do that from my phone because I can access Facebook from there, and we will be on the move through areas that may have spotty reception,” she said.

To support Prairie Thousand, follow their progress or, to connect with the Prairie Thousand team, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PrairieThousand. A QR code on the page directly links you to the webpage, www.prairiethousand.weebly.com.

They can also be reached by email at prairiethousand@gmail.com.

For more information about Wounded Warriors Canada, see www.woundedwarriors.ca

»kmckinley@brandonsun.com

»Twitter: @karenleighmcki1

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