Six years ago, Jeff Shepard was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after he was fired on in an ambush while on duty as an Auburn police officer.
On Monday, he hit the road for a cross-country motorcycle ride to bring awareness to others officers with PTSD.
The second-annual Ride for Relief kicked off at Tacoma police headquarters and will continue through 14 states. It will end in Bluemont, Virginia, the burial site of Kyle Farr, son of Leslie Mayne, founder of the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation.
Shepard will stop at law enforcement departments and fire stations throughout his trip, promoting PTSD awareness and support in each community. When he contacted the departments and communities, Shepard said, they welcomed him and and his message.
“It turned into something where we were thinking, ‘Oh, we will just ride across and have a little memorial for Kyle, but it’s turned into something way bigger,” Shepard said.
He was sent off Monday by Mayne and local Tacoma police officers. After saying their goodbyes, police escorted Shepard onto the highway to start his solo expedition.
Shepard was diagnosed with PTSD by a department psychologist in 2012 following the ambush shooting. After a year in therapy Shepard returned to work as a motorcycle officer, fulfilling a childhood dream.
Several months into the new job, Shepard and another officer were attacked with an improvised bomb in 2015. That sparked PTSD symptoms and led to Shephard's medical retirement nearly a year later after a decade as a police officer.
Shortly after he retired, Shepard connected with Mayne, whose message and support for soldiers and people with PTSD resonated with him.
“She was like a light in my life,” he said.
The two talked about a partnership to support law enforcement officers dealing with PTSD and Ride for Relief was born.
Shepard stayed in the Pacific Northwest on the first ride. He wants the second to signify something more.
Shepard said his cross-country journey not only will serve as therapy for him and his PTSD but also honor Farr, whose death has not received recognition on a larger scale.
“(Mayne) is always in service of others," Shepard said. "She never really has the time to do this for him, so I wanted to do it for her.”
Mayne founded Permission to Start Dreaming in 2011, two years after her son's death.
After returning from Iraq in 2008, Farr was diagnosed with PTSD and spent time in veteran hospitals being treated. Shortly after he was discharged from the hospital, Farr was found dead of a drug overdose March 7, 2009, in his hotel room. He was 27.
"None of us believe it was an intentional suicide, but it was definitely reckless," Mayne said. "His journals and his conversations with me were one of a soldier who really had dreams and aspirations. But he had not a lot of hope as to how that was going to happen.
"He clearly had a lot of medication. In my mind, that is a hard thing to manage ... and then you throw in alcohol and that's going to be a bad outcome.”
Mayne said she went to her own dark place after losing her son. A year after his death, she was asked to speak about grieving and loss. In the corner of the room, she noticed a whiteboard with PTSD written in bold letters. In between were the words “Permission to start dreaming.”
“When I saw that, that was the ‘Ah ha” moment for me," Mayne said. "So many of Kyle’s drugs were for nightmares and all these different drugs sort of work against each other.”
Starting the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation "has allowed us to create an epidemic of hope,” she said.
In 2011, Mayne started Race for a Soldier to raise awareness for PTSD and gather money for alternative therapies.
She said that after knocking on the door of everyone she knew who might be willing to support the cause, she did not know whether five or 500 people would come out to the race.
About 1,500 came out.
“They just needed direction and they needed to be given an opportunity to show that they could do more than just fly a flag,” she said.
As the foundation grew, so did the number of events it put on, including Pull for a Soldier, Swing for a Soldier and the Prayer Breakfast.
Shepard’s journey is the foundation's latest event and one that hits closer to home for Mayne.
“It’s pretty amazing," she said. "I am so humbled by it. To have someone want to do this, not only to honor my son, but to be a part of the mission overall and raise awareness across the country.”
As Shepard travels east, Mayne is preparing to meet him July 27, PTSD Awareness Day, at his final destination — her son’s burial site.
“I am going to be there when he gets there," she said. "I am going to greet him.
“I don’t know if there are going to be five people with me or 500, but I’ve got a pretty good sense that he is going to be welcomed in a very big way.”