Veterans turn their stress into strength

Juan Meza

To most people, the gym is a place to build muscle, burn calories, and better one’s health. For gym-going combat veterans, the reason is much deeper than that.

Glenn Ford’s Fitness Center is home to all kinds of people: professional bodybuilders, senior citizens and average people with varying fitness goals.

Along with that crowd, it is also home to a special selection of people — combat veterans.

Bobby Lee Chidom, 68, better known by his nickname “Chico,” and friend Aaron Ochoa, 38, are both combat veterans and members at Ford’s.

Chidom is a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Ochoa is an 18-year Army veteran, who served tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

What do these two veterans have in common? They both suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After being deployed to Vietnam for two years at the age of 19, Ochoa came back to the U.S. with what he calls a “beast” inside him.

Ochoa said it’s an everyday struggle to keep the beast within and that many vets, after they come home, fall victim to drug abuse, alcoholism, or untreated mental disorders.

Ochoa said the reason for the struggle when combat veterans return is that they don’t have anything to fuel the “beast” within.

Many veterans, including Ochoa, return to the U.S. unfamiliar with the non-combative and non-routine lifestyle. 

Ochoa said he feels much of the public can’t communicate with them, and they can’t communicate with the public, which makes them keep their emotions bottled up.

Tired of inadequate help from the Veterans Affairs department for their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, both friends turned to fitness.

Now a regular member at Ford’s, often going three to four times a week, Chidom said, “the gym takes a whole lot of stress away by turning the stress into strength.”

Chidom has recommended using the gym as a therapeutic outlet to his friends at the Veterans Center downtown. As a result, three other veterans with PTSD have joined Chidom in his workouts at Ford’s.

Ochoa on the other hand has competitive goals to become a sponsored Animal Pak sponsored powerlifter.

“If it wasn’t for this gym and the owners Bill and Mary, I’d probably be dead,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa added that he tries to leave the PTSD mindset outside the gym, and once he walks through the doors, all that’s on his mind is his dream of becoming a sponsored athlete.

These two friends, warriors and heroes took their punches from post-war civilian life, and now they are helping others tackle the reps with a couple of sets against some iron weights.