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Vet Fights PTSD with Mixed Martial Arts

Todd Vance is the founder of POW MMA in North Park

By Christina London and Lea Sutton
|  Thursday, Jul 4, 2013  |  Updated 4:03 PM PDT
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NBC 7's Lea Sutton explains how cage fighting is helping some veterans heal the wounds of war.

NBC 7's Lea Sutton explains how cage fighting is helping some veterans heal the wounds of war.

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A San Diego veteran is getting national attention for his unique approach to treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

Todd Vance founded Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Mixed Martial Arts (POW MMA) in North Park. The organization will be featured Thursday on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

The group is comprised of active duty military and veterans. While it may seem strange to treat PTSD with cage fighting, Vance said it actually makes sense.

“Physically, it satisfies that adrenaline rush. It satisfies that intensity that I missed from combat,” Vance explained. “Mentally, it really does calm the mind because you’re forced to be present in the moment."

Vance is an Army veteran who was an infantry squad leader in Iraq.

“Being ambushed was a really common occurrence on a daily basis,” Vance recalled.

His primary mission was making high-value raids, targeting top enemy leaders as they slept.

“It’s another thing to be face-to-face with the enemy. It’s another thing to smell his breath, to feel his nails in your skin, to not be sure you’re going to win that fight,” he explained.

When Vance came home, he said he was fine for the first few months.

Then, he started showing signs of PTSD, including hypervigilance, insomnia and intruding thoughts. That’s when he started therapy at Veterans Affairs and took up MMA as part of his treatment.

Now, Vance is sharing his love of MMA with other military members, whether they suffer from PTSD or not. He also wants to remove the stigma associated with expressing one’s feelings and getting help.

“We have to embrace it in order to recover,” he said.

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