By: AnnMarie Scaramuzzino
“The Rock Star and The Warrior.”
If they sound like a pair of superheroes, it’s because they might as well be.
Many are familiar with the story of Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen, who lost his arm in a car accident in 1984. In the following months, Allen learned how to play again using a partially electronic drum kit and the band went on to record their most successful album, Hysteria, in 1986. His determination inspired millions, and he continues to perform with Def Leppard today.
The “Warrior” portion of this dynamic duo is John Roberts; a US Marine who was badly injured in a 1992 helicopter crash that left him with 3rd degree burns on 80% of his body. After his recovery, John decided his new mission in life would be to help fellow veterans by involving himself with the organization, The Wounded Warrior Project.
In 2006, Allen visited the Walter Reed Military hospital in Washington D.C. After his visit, he and his wife Lauren were inspired to start helping wounded service members, and founded The Raven Drum Foundation. They began inviting service members and their families backstage at Def Leppard shows for an experience dubbed “Warrior Gatherings,” and during a session at a 2009 concert, Roberts was in attendance. From that point on, Rick Allen and John Roberts' lives and stories would stay intertwined.
Describing their meeting in 2009, Roberts said, “During our conversation I asked [Rick] about his experience with trauma and PTSD. I don’t know why but he absolutely just opened the door and we started talking. And it was interesting because since that meeting, I think we both got on a mission together to start talking about this openly.”
Different as they may seem, Allen and Roberts have one major thing in common: both have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; a type of anxiety disorder that affects those exposed to traumatic events. It is because of PTSD and their shared desire to assist and connect with those who are also suffering from it that these two unlikely came friends together and it is with their mutual efforts that progress is being made in the understanding and treating of the disorder.
For nearly five years, the duo have been working side-by-side, combining The Raven Drum Foundation with the efforts of The Wounded Warrior Project. Together, they continue to hold Warrior Gatherings backstage at Def Leppard concerts. It is there that Allen and Roberts share their own stories, in hopes that they will inspire vets to talk openly about their struggles.
When speaking about the Warrior Gatherings, Roberts explained, “It’s almost like a peer group session, that we sit in a circle and it looks like a group session but really it’s just a bunch of people that have been through trauma openly talking. And it’s a safe environment.”
Allen added, “Once people get talking and we realize the similarities and similar experiences that we’ve been through then all of a sudden, people just start to open up. We’ve realized it’s a great opportunity to allow warriors and spouses and their families or caregivers to come out and just have a really good time together.”
One of their overall goals is to clear up the stigmas that have come to be associated with PTSD over the years and to help others deal with their symptoms. Having experienced similar reactions to the disorder, including anger, substance abuse and depression, Allen and Roberts both agree that it is extremely important to avoid self-medication. The two also emphasize the importance of establishing a confidant; a role that each of them now plays in each other’s lives:
“If we start to isolate then we realize that we need to reach out,” Allen said. “We need to get on the phone, we need to say ‘Hey, how you doin’?’ And just in that short message, whether it be a text message, whether it be a phone call, all of a sudden I feel better. I’m not alone. I’m not suffering alone.”
Both Allen and Roberts are now trying to embrace what they call the “New Normal”, which Roberts defined as, “finding a place where you can be happy again.” Through their work with wounded service members, they have been able to take great strides toward that happiness, while assisting others in doing the same.
For the future, Rick Allen, John Roberts and Rick’s wife Lauren are hoping to put on a more extensive mental health program where they can provide tips on nutrition and exercise, coping methods and peer support to those suffering with PTSD.
In the meantime, The Rock Star and The Warrior just want to continue to raise awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Allen explained, “Anyone can be affected by PTSD, no matter what you do or where you come from. I know people are afraid to ask for help. So this is me and John saying, ‘Listen, it doesn’t matter if you’re a warrior a rock star or whatever, trauma can affect anybody.’”
For more information on The Wounded Warrior project, head over to the official website. Also find out more about Rick Allen’s non-profit organization, The Raven Drum Foundation, here and hear more of this interview below!
John Roberts discusses the first time he met Rick Allen in 2009
John Roberts and Rick Allen describe the Warrior Gatherings that they hold backstage at Def Leppard concerts
Rick Allen talks about the importance of having someone to confide in when suffering with PTSD
Click here to check out Rick Allen and John Roberts' interview with ABC News.