Peru in November 2022 –
It’s often said to have a comeback you have to have a setback. Sgt. 1st Class (R) Lavone Kendrick’s setback to come back was over twenty years in the making and she is living her truth today trying to help others.
“At the beginning of my Army career I was sexually harassed and assaulted. The way I entered the SRU (Soldier Recovery Unit) was that I hurt my hip during PT (Physical Training) while stationed at Fort Polk.” Kendrick suffered a torn Labrum which she would eventually have surgery on, but she struggled with mental health issues too.
“One of the ways I found strength in NOT talking about any of the assault or harassment was in my safe space and that was going to the gym. I was very much addicted to going to the gym,” said Kendrick.
“I ended up going to Korea and I had some great leaders that saw the injury, I was trying to do the best that I could and keep going. I was banned three times by physical therapy from going to the gym.” From Korea, Kendrick was sent to the SRU in San Antonio.
“I felt like I was fighting against myself because working out was my safe space, but I had to learn how to heal without going to the gym and injuring myself and the SRU sent me to class to do that. That’s when I first learned about the games and the adaptive reconditioning program where I fell in love with archery which I still do!” She will compete in February 2023 at the Texas State Championship where she hopes to improve her third-place win from 2019.
“I never tried archery before and I learned that I am a right-handed person, but I am a left-handed shooter, I tried with my right hand and I could hardly hit the target but my left hand, was definitely on target.” Kendrick was on target as a member of Team Army at the 2017 DOD Warrior Games in Chicago and again in 2018 in Colorado Springs, followed by competing on Team US at the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018. The Chaplain’s assistant medaled for the team in these games in various adaptive sports.
“The comradery we had in Chicago was amazing. We were there on the fourth of July, and it was my mom’s birthday, so the team sang happy birthday to my mom on the bus, it was so special. It was her last birthday as she passed a month later so this is a very fond memory of my team and my mom.”
Last year, Kendrick was medically retired after 24 years in the Army. She still struggles with physical pain and manages through different therapies and adaptive sports, but the mental pain is daunting she says.
“I stopped my medication, and it was the worst thing in the world for me. I learned that it takes many events to change the brain. You need the journey to continue to heal from PTSD and other mental health traumas. That’s why I came to Peru.” A decision she made after the VA kept asking what groups she wanted to join for counseling.
“Talking is good but I think it has a length of time, and healing has to include action. I was tired of talking about how I feel… I wanted to change how I feel with action. “
Giving back was important to Kendrick so she found an opportunity to do just that in South America. She volunteered with IVHQ International Volunteer Head Quarters and signed up for a one-month assignment in Lima, Peru then an additional month in Cusco. When she arrived home in Texas just before Christmas, she had great stories to share.
“I volunteered in a poor area helping in the soup kitchen and worked with children in a shelter and at the local school,” she said with pride adding how precious the children were.
She is taking classes to teach English as a second language so she can further her world travels helping people in need. But she has bigger dreams…bigger than herself.
“I want to see if there is a way to help other Veterans to come to Peru and we can help them help ourselves by helping others. Here we hike, we talk, we volunteer together I think it would be a phenomenal way for Soldiers suffering with PTSD for example to come together for a few weeks or a month through action,” said Kendrick who is sharing this idea with anyone who will listen.
She hopes Soldiers or anyone out there struggling will listen to her now.
“You are worth healing. You are worth being better. It is hard to look at yourself or compare yourself to another Soldier and say I can’t do this; I can’t do that; or I can’t do it anymore. Healing is a harder journey than you think. Another person will not trade one of their healthy days for one of your hurtful days. You have to look in the mirror and decide you are worth the journey towards healing.”