In August 2013 NATAL opened a long distance running group called "Running with Rami" to help combat veterans suffering from symptoms of PTSD, with the help of Rami Yulzari (veteran of war by himself).
Rami is a married father of three sons and a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD from the First Lebanon War in 1982. He says, "When everyone came home from the First Lebanon War, I found I got home but I did not return from the war, it came home with me". His varied symptoms include agoraphobia, nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, various physical problems and until a few years ago he was very heavy-set.
Rami (second from left) training for a marathon
After undergoing years of therapeutic treatments (some more successful than others) he was the first patient in Israel to undergo Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy. Rami was concerned about his weight and although he was not in shape he woke up one morning and decided he would sign up for a marathon and he ran his first marathon in January 2011.
However every time Rami trained, after a couple of hours of running a curious phenomenon would occur where he would experience disturbing flashbacks from his combat service. Nevertheless he persevered, he says, "One choice is to view running as a threat…as I begin to remember all of the memories that I want to forget. The other option is to think positively and understand that running is an opportunity to fight through my symptoms and be in control of my flashbacks instead of letting them control me".
In fact Rami asserts that long distance running helps him to be freer to be himself, it strengthens him physically and mentally. He says, "One thing about long distance running is it's mostly a mental sport. You need a strong mind to run a long distance."
After the success of completing his first marathon, in 2011 Rami established "Running with Rami" to encourage other combat veterans suffering from PTSD to take up long distance running and reap some of the physical and psychological benefits that he himself had experienced. Rami himself is very open about his experiences and feels that it is important to share his story; he states that, "Every time I talk about it, it affects people."
People suffering from PTSD often find it difficult to go out and be around others. "Running with Rami" not only promotes physical activity but it creates a safe, social community for trauma sufferers. At every running session the participants are accompanied by one of NATAL's mental health professionals who runs with them, as well as a running trainer and volunteers. Everyone in the group wears the same outfit to instill a sense of team-spirit, Rami notes that, "Everyone looks the same, we are one. When an outsider looks at the group together, they cannot tell who suffers from PTSD."
The participants of "Running with Rami" are currently training for their next big marathon, coming up in May 2014 and will also participate for the second consecutive year in NATAL's "Running in Color" event on 14th November 2014. In fact it was Rami who suggested the idea of the "Running in Color" event and remains a driving force behind it with NATAL.
It is clear that the group continues to be a life-changing experience not just for Rami but for all the participants, volunteers and their families.