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Veterans connect, find solace through rock climbing

“It's the mental and the physical part of it," said Navy-Army veteran Chris Butler. "When you're up on the wall, it's like to me nothing else matters.”

ATLANTA — As Americans head into the Independence Day holiday weekend, many are also honoring those who sacrificed so much for the nation's freedom. 

For veterans, it’s rarely an easy road. But one Atlanta group is connecting servicemen and women in a unique way; through rock climbing. 

“For me, it was an outlet," said Chris Butler, climbing coordinator for the Atlanta branch of VetsClimb. "I did six years in the navy, two years in the army. Been on two tours. Just, you know, took a toll on me and my family, and here I am.”

Now he's sharing his newfound love of the climb with other veterans.

“Since I found climbing, it's helped me open up," Butler said. "It gives me a purpose, you know. I lost my purpose for a while.”

Veteran Ryan Ruzek recently joined the group for the first time.

"This is my first time climbing period," he laughed. “I've hit three walls and I've got to the top of all of them, but I'm not going to quit until I fail a couple of times.”

Ruzek said his own experience in the military made him want to help and connect with other veterans.

"I was in the 82nd airborne division as an infantryman," he said. "A lot of veterans are dealing with PTSD. Everybody kind of seems to want to do it on their own, that’s how we were bred.”

However, it’s also in their nature to overcome.

“It's the mental and the physical part of it," Butler explained. "When you're up on the wall, it's like to me nothing else matters.”

For Butler, leading the group now is his calling.

"Hopefully some of them will take it up lifelong and hopefully it will save some lives," he added. 

After all, it's what's helping him move forward with his healing and his family.

“My daughter climbs, been climbing basically the whole time with me," Butler said. "She’s actually better than I am!”

In fact, 8-year-old Melia recently launched a climbing nonprofit to increase access to the sport to all children. 

When asked if he think's she's proud of him, Butler simple smiled saying "Yeah."

Now that’s a peak worth reaching.

The VetsClimb group meets every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Stone Summit in Atlanta, 3701 Presidential Pkwy.

You can learn more at vetsclimb.org.

The organization is supported by Catalyst Sports, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for service men and women who have incurred a physical or mental injury, or illness to participate in challenging adventure programs. 

You can learn more them or donate to their efforts here. You can also sign up to volunteer here

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