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When you build a community it eventually takes on a life of its own. It self-organizes and it self-regulates – and we get to witness it. The Freetrail community does that, sometimes in surprising but uniquely authentic ways. One of those ways is in the championing of its community members. One of those community stalwarts is Ari Sonnenberg. 

While Ari has become a community sage for us, someone who can hit you with just the right quote from the Bhagavad Gita at a profoundly perfect moment, he is also a veteran of the United States Army. During Ariโ€™s fifteen years of service, he was deployed on combat tours that took him from Bosnia to Mosul, Iraq, and like so many veterans in this country has dealt with the mental strains that so frequently accompany those who serve to protect us and others. One of the things Ari has turned to since leaving the army has been performing austerities – particularly now over the Memorial Day weekend. Austerity and performing austerities is a disciplined practice wherein you voluntarily work for purification and advancement – but it is not so much an act of denying oneself things as it is removing the obstacles that prevent you from growing. Which is beginning to sound a lot like an ultra.ย 

A moody reflection high in the Cascade mountains

Memorial Day for many of us is a day where we hold conflicting emotions in our hearts. Honor, love, sorrow, anger – remembrance. Over the last couple of years, Ari has brought us into his weekend of remembrance as he uses personal endurance challenges as a way to perform his austerity and cleanse his heart. Last year that included running the Dutch Mountain Trail in an FKT attempt as his mind wandered to memories of those heโ€™s lost – confronting the emotions as they came up – rolling the stone forward again. This year Ari embarked on a three-day bike ride once again to wrestle the internal conflicts as a way to honor those missed.ย 

Enter this community, the Freetrailers, self-organizing yet again. Matt, or the man who goes by three initials – our MVD, put together a Freetrail-led community fundraising initiative for the second year in a row for the Wounded Warrior Project. And to this date raised almost $4,000 during the month of May. The Wounded Warrior Project was founded by a group of veterans and friends to take action in helping injured service men and women get back on level ground. They specifically focus on honoring and empowering those who incurred physical and mental injuries, illnesses, or wounds alongside military service on or after September 11th, 2001. Every month last year nearly 2,000 individuals registered with the Wounded Warriors Project to receive care and services – the need is high.ย 

While mental health is becoming a less taboo topic, many individuals feel alone in their struggles. But they’re not alone. 76% of those registered with the Wounded Warrior Project live with PTSD and anxiety, and 74% live with depression – both of which greatly impact oneโ€™s quality of life. In the past year, two in three individuals involved with the Wounded Warrior Project were able to get professional help with their stress, emotions, or mental health – this type of care not only changes lives it saves them too.

If this moved you, feel free to touch base with Ari directly at his email address, sonnenbergari@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Instagram.

Beyond that, if you have the means, we’d encourage you to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project in Ariโ€™s name. The Freetrail community has raised almost $4000 so far this year!ย 

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