This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on May 23, 2019.
How can tight-fitting, one-piece spandex help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? Putting it on and wrestling an opponent wearing the same thing!
When three former military veterans and wrestlers, Jan “Dynamite” Ohrstrom, Eddie ‘El Guero” Wittern and John Brazier aka Brysin Scott, came together to start the Valhalla Club, they had no idea the impact it would have on other veterans suffering from PTSD. The small, Texas-based organization and advocacy group uses the fast-action art of wrestling as therapy and encourages PTSD veterans to find new ways of channelling their negative energy into something more positive.
Inspired by the September 11 attacks, Ohrstrom enlisted in the U.S. Army putting any dream of pro-wrestling on hold. After years of witnessing the loss of comrades, Ohrstrom began readjusting into civilian life but living with the guilt of surviving countless attacks. Comrades who made it home as well began suffering with PTSD and many would eventually take their own lives. “It’s like the death never stops. It overwhelms you at times if you let it,” says Ohrstrom.
The Valhalla Club Documentary gives an intimate look into the lives of the three military veterans and how they have dealt and continue to deal with the demons of war. The documentary pulls no punches when discussing what military men and women witness and experience during combat and the real struggles they face after returning home.
What do you want people to know about PTSD?
Its not a weakness by any stretch of the imagination. You have been through something quite a bit of people can not fathom or ever understand, and it will destroy you if given the chance. Be strong, finding that outlet is so crucial to readjusting to life and whatever it is that fits that need, go after that. Be the hero of your own story and fight forever. Always fight forever.
What has been the hardest part of coming home after combat?
Trying to be around people who have no idea on how to relate with what you had been through. This goes for family, work, school, neighbors, etc.
In what ways has wrestling helped you manage PTSD?
When I was leaving the Army, there was an insulting level of support for those of us who were struggling with readjustment and the VA was not that much better, if at all. We had to look at ourselves and our passions and use that as our creative outlet. To be successful in pro wrestling, you have to have a committed workout and eating lifestyles which meant more time in the gym. It was a great release for anger/anxiety and other mental issues we faced. Additionally, the constant demand of refining our character for the ring required us to use our mental focus there rather then getting lost in the flashbacks of what we experienced down range. Wrestling gives participants something to look forward to until, hopefully, they start to look at living as a reason to get out of bed.
How has the documentary been received by veterans?
Yes we have had a very positive reception from the Veteran community. We have gotten messages from Veterans and servicemembers literally all around the world. It has been a great conversational piece as many of not only expressing their support for the film but have also shared the various ways they cope with PTSD.
Are there plans to make another documentary?
Although another documentary is still up in the air, we are currently moving forward with making a full length feature film and graphic novel.
Wrestling is a vehicle veterans can use to become another persona. Wrestling is cathartic. It is about escape and imagination. Whether it’s wrestling or another form of therapy or hobby, the Valhalla Club provides a unique physical and mental outlet for veterans coping with PTSD stress and searching for a sense of community and a natural remedy.
The Valhalla Club Documentary has been featured on the Comedy Central’s new show “Klepper” and is available on Amazon.
Cover: Valhalla Club (l-r, John Brazier, Jan Ohrstrom and Eddie Wittern) Photo courtesy Jonathan Bell
Austinite Lisa Davis is the Editorial Assistant for Texas Lifestyle Magazine and honors graduate from Concordia University Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Public Relations.