WARREN - Bike riding is, by most accounts, a healthy endeavor. Tom Skinner is interested in a different type of health.
Skinner cycled through the Mahoning Valley this week in his quest to make it to White River Junction, Vt., by June 27 for National PTSD Awareness Day. White River Junction is the home of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Skinner, a U.S. Army veteran, has been cycling across the country giving presentations since leaving San Diego on March 10.
With his two-year-old daughter Courtney-Joanne's shoes tied to his bike seat, he's traveled along Interstate 40 up through the Southwest into Missouri, where he picked up historic Route 66 and has since made his way into Ohio. All the while, hauling 400 pounds of camping gear and presentation equipment, as well as his traveling companion and service dog, Scrubs.
Scrubs, a four-year-old female border collie, is specially trained to counter Skinner's anxiety disorder, responding to verbal cues and even alerting him to an oncoming anxiety attack before he even feels it himself.
She's highly attuned to noises and when Skinner awakens sometimes at night from vivid dreams, he will find that Scrubs is still asleep, a cue for him.
"If she's still sleeping soundly, I know what I've just experienced is not real and it's my job then to calm down," he said.
Skinner served in the Army from 1985 to 1992, and while he will not discuss the details of his service, he said he has been dealing with moderate to severe PTSD for many years, and it's something he knows others need help to face.
"They think they have to remain strong and tough, but it's not weak to say 'hey, I'm having trouble dealing with what I just experienced'," he said.
Skinner has been blogging about his PTSD for the past several years, the good and the bad. And he's added his trip to the blog site, understandingPTSD.org.