Jiu Jitsu instructor helps veterans cope with PTSD

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. – As post-traumatic stress disorder shatters the lives of thousands of American troops, a Jiu Jitsu instructor in Chula Vista is working to help heal local veterans.

Owner and head instructor of Gracie Jiu Jitsu Eastlake, Elias Gallegos, is well-known in the mixed martial arts world and the world of Jiu Jitsu. The second-degree black belt not only instructs classes, but also helps veterans suffering from PTSD.

“Some people preach from the pulpit, some people heal from the doctor’s room, and I heal from the mat,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos has dedicated a large part of his time to training local military veterans struggling with war-related trauma. And he does it all free of charge.

“My other friends who own businesses say you know, you should just charge them still, just give them a discount. But it’s not about that. It’s about saving a person’s life,” Gallegos said.

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine, an estimated 23 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.

PTSD is a condition of reliving traumatic experiences that causes people to feel intense anxiety and fear and often drives them to abuse drugs and alcohol or to contemplate thoughts of self-harm.

Rodolfo Quiles is a veteran with PTSD. Today, he struggles to free himself from a Jiu Jitsu hold, but his battle on the mat is not the one he’s worried about. It’s the war within.

After several deployments and injuries sustained in Iraq, the retired Marine sergeant, like so many others, returned different -- anxious and depressed.

“When I got back in ’07 I lost interest in a lot of things,” Quiles said. “There’s a lot of things that a guy my age should enjoy and I don’t do it. I’d rather just stay at home isolated and watch a movie. Now, with the family but before, I didn’t connect with them. So…I’m dealing with my demons inside basically.

Quiles’ struggles with PTSD have been difficult on him and his family -- until now.

“I’ve been here for about 3 months now, since May, and it’s just different. I mean I belong to a family now and I train, I’m able to sleep, I’m not angry...which is something a lot of people don’t understand,” said Quiles about Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Although there are a number of therapies and treatment for PTSD, experts say exercise plays an important role in helping sufferers, especially those dealing with depression.

Quiles says through his Jiu Jitsu and training with Gallegos he has begun to regain his life. Gallegos says it’s just his way of giving back to those who have given so much.

“I had a guy one time who got promoted who said, 'I thank God for Jiu Jitsu because if it wasn’t for Jiu Jitsu, right now at this very moment I would be in a bar drinking my life away.' To me, that makes it worth it. The money that I don’t make, the time that I give…that one person is worth everything,” Gallegos said.

“I went through depression before for a long time and I know what that’s like…I know that feeling of not having any hope is, that feeling of being surrounded by so many people and still feeling all alone.”

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