There’s a saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” which basically means to make the best out of a bad situation. And that’s exactly what We Defy Foundation does for its veterans.
Founded in 2015 by Joey Bozik, along with Alan Shebaro, We Defy Foundation has stuck by its tagline “Prove them wrong” by providing combat veterans who have suffered life-altering injuries a way to overcome their disability challenges through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other forms of fitness training. Military Medicine even stated that BJJ or other kinds of self-defense sports can provide an “enhanced exposure therapy-like experience” that can help with physical struggles while also helping veterans who have PTSD with their symptoms.
“One of the only things [Chad Robichaux, a former Force Recon Marine] found that did help him was Jiu-Jitsu,” said Jeremy Stalnecker, a Marine Corps veteran. “…Jiu-Jitsu has been a tremendous tool for a lot of veterans who are transitioning out of the military … When you transition out of the military, you lose a couple of things — one is community and then two is not just community, but a community of people that do hard work together. So, in a lot of ways, [Jiu-Jitsu] fulfills that role for a lot of people.”
Since We Defy’s inception, it has accumulated over 300 athletes and has over 300 affiliated gyms as well as We Defy gyms in 45 states. Just last year in 2021, the foundation was also able to raise $500,000 with $8.80 of every dollar being used for program expenses. Even though Stalnecker was late to the BJJ game — he didn’t get into the sport until 15 years after he left the Marine Corps — he quickly saw how much of a transition tool it can be for other veterans just getting out of service. For those who are still active duty, BJJ has been used to help with the mental health of soldiers by giving them a healthy outlet.
“I think [BJJ] does wonders for the mental health of Marines,” said Jared Fekete, a Combat Engineer Officer in the Marine Corps. “We’re really big on the mental health side of things because in the Marine Corps and in the service, it can get heavy. You never know what someone’s going through. So this outlet is so good.”
For more information about We Defy Foundation and how to apply, visit wedefyfoundation.org.
Photo credit: We Defy Foundation's Instagram