WAUKEE, Iowa -- Troy Peterson enlisted in the army shortly after 9/11 and returned from Iraq in 2005. “I was wounded,” he says. “People I knew were wounded, people I knew died.” His physical wounds healed, but the mental toll sent the veteran into a spiral.
“I turned to drugs and alcohol,” Troy says matter-of-factly. "It got to the point where I couldn't remember days on end, don't remember things I said, things I did.”
What he couldn't remember, his wife and young son couldn't forget.
“It was hard for me to see his dad not being there for him,” says Tiffany Peterson, “not getting up in the morning, not wanting to play with him, wanting to drink instead.”
The couple battled the addiction and mental illness together, continually reaching out for help, trying everything. Tiffany even tried getting Troy to her Crossfit gym.
“I went through therapy on my own, therapy with my wife, professionals outside the VA, I could never take it in,” says Troy.
During the summer of 2015, he gave up.
“I took a bottle full of painkillers while she was in the restroom, she had no idea. That was it for me, I attempted to overdose,” he says. “I attempted suicide.”
Tiffany couldn’t take any more. “Rock bottom sucks, and it sucks for the family as well,” she says. "For me to say I was walking away was terrible, it was not something I ever wanted to do.”
Troy survived his suicide attempt. Losing his family was a turning point.
“I didn't know what else to do, so I came to the gym,” he explains. “Reggie was here that day, and he just started talking to me and started coming up with this plan of how I could lose weight and how I could take my military training and use it in here."
Reggie Hoegh doesn’t mince words about what kind of shape Troy was in.
“I mean he was overweight I’m not going to lie!”
His specialty is helping people lose weight and gain strength, but it was his ear that Troy needed most. “Most people aren’t up front about that kind of stuff, so at first you just want to listen,” he explains.
He listened, taking on the role of coach and counselor, and he pushed Troy to do more.
“It doesn’t matter what happens in the past,” he says, “we can control what happens today with our choices.”
The physical transformation will never erase the emotional scars.
“They always hurt,” Troy says, “but it could be worse, could be a lot worse. It used to be a lot worse.”
He’s now lost more than 100 pounds. He’s gained peace, confidence, and a new life…and the people who make it worth living.
“What keeps me going is my wife, my two kids.”
“Before he went to Iraq it was like a totally different person from when he came back,” says his wife. "To live with that for ten years and then to get him back to where he was before, it’s a blessing. I love it.”
As for Troy, he has a new motto.
“Positive mind, positive life…if you believe in that, great things can happen.”
One of the things that motivates Troy is helping others. He shares his story weekly at Lutheran Church of Hope and he’s also organized an event this weekend. It’s a fundraiser for the non-profit Mental Kilter. The event will take place on Saturday, September 16th at 9:30 a.m. at CrossFit Waukee. To sign up, click here.
Troy will also be part of a Facebook Live with Channel 13's Erin Kiernan on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Visit her Facebook page here.