In Honor of Veterans Day 2021, Veterans Advantage hosted its annual Heroes Meet Heroes event on Zoom on November 10. The event, which started nine years ago, brings together a diverse panel of Olympic athletes and veterans in inspirational conversation.
The Olympian panelists in this year’s two virtual sessions included two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Donna de Varona, (guest of honor), gold medalist Michelle Carter (shot put), Priscilla Loomis (high jump), John Mann (water polo), and Scott Fusco (hockey).
Veterans included Medal of Honor Recipient Paul "Bud” Bucha, (guest of honor), Bryan Bergjans (Navy Reserves), Richard M. Jones (Army), and Mark Maybury (Air Force). Rounding out the distinguished guest list was Dr. Phil Shinnick, who is both an Air Force veteran and an Olympian (long jump world record holder). The panel was moderated by Veterans Advantage Co-Founder and Co-CEO Scott Higgins. (Army).
After initial introductions, both sets of heroes answered questions from the Zoom audience on everything from mental health and injuries to employment, volunteerism, and home ownership. A running theme was motivation – how both athletes and soldiers remain motivated to move forward with physical and mental challenges, transition into new careers, and build their support networks.
"Both veterans and Olympians are mission oriented. They’re dedicated,” said Mark Maybury, who currently serves as Chief Technology Officer for Stanley Black & Decker, U.S. He commented on the benefits of hiring veterans in the workforce and encouraged vets to seek resources for job-seeking help.
Resiliency is a quality everyone agreed applies to both athletes and veterans.
"The biggest thing I learned on my Olympic journey is, you need to get up every day and you go to work. Sometimes things are good, Sometimes they’re not so good. You have a lot of success and a lot of failures and at the end of the day you get through it,” said Scott Fusco, who is also a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.
Reentry to civilian life is another shared experience compared to elite athletes retiring from their sport. Several of the veterans spoke about post-traumatic stress and the stigma surrounding mental health in both the military and the athletic community. Paul "Bud” Bucha reiterated several times that if you are experiencing something like this, "you are not alone.” The feeling of loss of one’s sense of purpose and passion translates across fields.
In addition to the solidarity of having a brotherhood or sisterhood, "overcoming injuries both physical and mental is a parallelism,” said Dr. Phil Shinnick of Olympians and veterans. The World Record holder for long jump stressed the importance of caring for injuries and giving them time, citing several points in his life where he had to take extended time off for the sake of longevity. "You have to respect your injuries. You have to learn to heal yourself. I feel that that is our duty. No one is going to do it for us. Injuries tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. You should listen or you destroy yourself.”
Richard M. Jones, Chief Veteran Officer at ViacomCBS, spoke about his recent surgery fusing his spine together and the challenges that he faces daily with pain. Michelle Carter suffered an injury recently that took her out of the competition for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She spoke about pushing the limits of recovery gently and progressing her routine every other week with some advice from her Olympian father.
"Going to a positive place is very important. We have to allow our bodies and minds time to heal,” she encouraged.
Heroes Meet Heroes was generously sponsored by Northrop Grumman, Caliber Home Loans, Avis Rent A Car, Budget Rent A Car, 1-800-Flowers.com, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, FourBlock, Dell and American Airlines and IMAX. All who attended received a complementary year of VetRewards,. We hosted two separate sessions, on November 10. You can watch them in full here and here, or click the videos below..