In Part I of our Wounded Warrior Project Series, we interviewed US Army Veterans Harvey Paige and Texas Army National Guard Omar Marqueses about their military experience and how Project Odyssey (Wounded Warrior Project’s retreat program for combat veterans) and a pair of therapy balls changed their lives. Below are more of their stories.

Paige, 39, lives in Louisiana with his wife and two boys, 10 and 12.

TUF: First off, thank you for your service and for everything you’ve done for our country. Can you tell me about your military background? When and where did you serve?
HP: I served in the Army from 2001 through 2010 and during that time was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq multiple times. I was wounded several times, but the injury that retired me was from an IED that hit me right below my knee and fractured the bone. They tried to put in screws and a plate to repair it, but it never went back to normal and it inhibits me from running.

TUF: What motivated you to participate in Project Odyssey?
HP: Honestly, my wife. She thought it would be good for me to connect with other veterans who are dealing with the same issues I’ve dealt with. And she was right! I’ve been on three Odysseys since.

TUF: Can you tell me about your first encounter with the Roll Model® Therapy Balls?
HP: (Laughs) Yeah, there were nine of us guys—all Army and Marines—and Greg (Project Odyssey leader, Combat Stress Recovery Specialist and certified Roll Model® Method Practitioner Greg Hancock) brought out these balls. Of course, we all made jokes about them. But then he showed us how to massage our feet, calves, quads and back, and how to get under our glutes. He showed us how to breathe and focus and ground ourselves. I actually made “using the balls” one of my Smart Goals, which we set before leaving Project Odyssey. These are goals we hold ourselves accountable for, for 90 days before checking in with our Odyssey leader.

TUF: How have the Roll Model® Therapy Balls helped you?
HP: Well, I keep one set at work and I use them mostly as a mindset thing. I get amped up pretty easily. If I’m having a rough time, I’ll pull them out and lean up against a wall and dig into my shoulders, or sit on the floor with one under my leg. Or even just work my hand over a ball. It eases my muscles, but also it takes me out of my funk. It takes me back to another mindset—where I’ll be like, “What was I really so mad about?”

TUF: Sounds like the Therapy Balls have had some great mental benefits, have they been helpful for you physically?
HP: Yes, the second set I keep at home and use after workouts. They really help my muscles recover faster after working out and help with mobility. My favorite thing to do is put them right behind my shoulder blades, on a wall or on the floor. I love the pressure.

TUF: Thank you for sharing this piece of your journey with us. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience with Project Odyssey or working with the Therapy Balls?
HP: Before I went on Project Odyssey, I was in a weird place. I lost a lot of guys over there. It was expected that we wouldn’t make it. Then I would think, “Why did I make it and they didn’t?” I felt selfish that they died and I was still here. From going on Odysseys and using the [Roll Model® Therapy] balls, I’ve gotten to appreciate what I did and be grateful for what I have. I still deal with struggles but I don’t want it to define who I am. I do what I can to make a difference, whether with helping fellow veterans or with my kids.

A Soldier—and Dad’s—Secret Weapon

Omar Marqueses has been serving his country for 22 years as a member of the Texas Army National Guard. Marqueses, 40, considers himself lucky that he hasn’t suffered any major injuries, but he’s had his share of pain—including back pain due to an inflamed disc since 2004 and plantar fasciitis in both feet that started in 2009.

Like many of his fellow soldiers, Marqueses, who lives in Austin, Tex., with his fiancée and their 2-year-old son (he also has two older children), just learned to live with the pain. Last summer when he attended Project Odyssey, Wounded Warrior Project’s retreat program for combat soldiers and veterans, he wasn’t expecting that to change. And he certainly wasn’t expecting that a few therapy balls would be the game changer.

Project Odyssey leader Greg Hancock introduced the Roll Model® Therapy Balls to Marqueses’ group and invited them all to roll out the bottoms of their feet. Marqueses immediately felt a difference, not just in his decreased level of pain but also his improved flexibility. Working with Hancock, Marqueses and his fellow warriors also learned to use the balls for other areas of their body, including the hips, back, temples, and jaw (headaches and jaw clenching go hand-in-hand with post-traumatic stress, so these are common problem areas for combat veterans).

“I’ve tried getting massages in the past, but they are so expensive. The Roll Model® Therapy Balls are a great alternative—not only are they inexpensive, but they are so much more convenient. And they really help me get to deeper knots in my muscles than a foam roller does.” When Marqueses used to get out of bed in the morning, those first few steps hurt so bad that he had to grab on his son’s crib rail to lessen the pain from his feet. Now he uses the Roll Model® Therapy Balls every morning. “If I loosen up the bottoms of my feet first, it really does so much to alleviate that pain.”

Below are two of Marqueses’ favorite ways to use the Roll Model® Therapy Balls.

Exercise #1 – Bottoms of feet: Arch cross

  • Stand next to a chair or wall and place a hand on it to help you balance. Step your left arch on top of a Roll Model® Therapy Balls (Original YTU or PLUS) so that it nestles into the center of your arch. Keep your heel on the ground.
  • Take 5 to 10 abdominal breaths, allowing your foot to enrobe the ball.
  • Next, CrossFiber your arch and plantar fascia by pivoting your ankle from side to side (invert and evert your ankle) 10 times. Attempt to smush the ball as you go back and forth.

Exercise #2 – Upper back: Unzip the Bony Corset

  • Place the Original YTU or PLUS balls on either side of your spine, just below C-7, and press your back up against a wall.
  •  Bend and straighten your knees to create a small push-pull motion that drags the balls and strips up and down your back in an approximately 2- to 3-inch range.
  • Lean your body more deeply into the left ball for a few strokes, then deeper into the right ball for a few strokes.

Note: You can also do this move lying on your back, lifting your hips off the ground and using the pressure of your feet to move the balls.

For more on how The Roll Model® Method and Project Odyssey are helping combat veterans, read Wounded Warrior’s ‘Project Odyssey’ Gets Their Roll on for Recovery.