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Episode 3: Leading from the Front with Former Command Sergeant Major, Gretchen Evans

Gretchen Evans served 27 years in the US Army, earning a bronze star, and rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major. During her service, Gretchen survived a rocket blast which left her with hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury.

While struggling with depression after her injury, she relied on a new rope team to bring her back into the world and show her she still had the ability to find purpose by serving and leading again. Despite her injuries, Gretchen serves others as a passionate volunteer. She also achieved her No Barriers goal by finishing her book, “Leading from the Front.”

On this episode of our No Barriers Podcast, we connected with Gretchen remotely from her home in North Carolina. Showing her Army roots, Gretchen was early to the call and well-prepared, including with adaptive technology to communicate since she is deaf.

The episode begins with Gretchen detailing her time in the Army, her many tours, and her overall love for the service.

“I’ve done 9 Combat tours…I’m like a cat with 9 lives.”

She was a natural leader and despite her very small frame she was a commanding force and was dedicated to her troops. After an unexpected rocket blast, Gretchen was devastated when she woke up in the hospital and learned she would never hear again.

“The thing that really kicked me in the gut wasn’t even my physical injuries; what made me pause, made me afraid, was that I went from hero to zero in one second with no transition and no plan for retirement…that I wasn’t going out on my own terms.”

As she was forced back into civilian life with a disability, she struggled to figure out her new role. She describes the hopelessness and despair that can take over your life as a whole:

“I had tried therapy, medication, and those things somewhat helped but they weren’t the silver bullet. I wanted out of this hole. I was clinging to the sides to keep from falling in.”

Gretchen EvansEventually, Gretchen talks about finding No Barriers Warriors, the No Barriers programs for veterans and on her first expedition out into the wilderness she discovers that it’s not her disability that’s been holding her back, it’s her disconnection from other people. Being around other veterans and having a team is what Gretchen was missing.

She talks about how that was the catalyst to rediscovering her purpose — to lead teams and help others. She was still a leader at heart, just in a different capacity.

“First you gotta realize you have a hole, having self awareness, and letting people into your life — realizing that helping other people and engaging with other people who have their own holes — that’s healing.”

Buy a copy of Gretchen’s book: Leading from the Front

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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–

Erik: This is our No Barriers podcast. This is Erik Weihenmayer talking [00:00:30] from Golden, my home. We have my fellow host Jeff Evans. How are you doing today, Jeff?

Jeff: Good, Erik. Good, Erik. It seems to be another shorts and t-shirts day here in the middle of winter in Colorado. Everything is going as not planned for our winter, but it’s still a beautiful day here in Colorado.

Erik: Dumped 12 inches yesterday I heard up in the mountains so maybe things are looking up. We’re not getting much of a winter. I didn’t [00:01:00] get much of a winter these last few days because I was out visiting one of our No Barriers graduates, Matt Burges, who runs this awesome organization, Freedom Fidos, training service dogs for vets. I was checking out his facility. Then I went down to Miami to meet one of our No Barrier sponsors, Tom Sullivan who founded Cabinets To Go. They have 50 something stores and they’re gonna have a scholarship for vets, youth, [00:01:30] really anyone in our community to take part in one of our event, one of our programs, one person from each of those Cabinet To Go communities. That’s 50 something scholarships of people that are gonna get to participate. It was a really good day connected with Tom and Cabinets. What you been up to, Jeff?

 

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