Originally published September 17, 2013 at 5 p.m., updated September 18, 2013 at 9:50 p.m.
More than 100 injured veterans from across the U.S. are in San Diego this week for the 6th National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. They're learning life-changing skills through sports and recreational activities such as sailing, cycling, surfing, kayaking and track and field.
When President Obama announced an ambitious national effort to map the human brain earlier this year, some scientists criticized the project for being too vague, but the BRAIN Initiative is beginning to sketch out more specific goals.
Army veteran Eric Perez, 32, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from fighting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Ever since I came home from Iraq, I pretty much isolated and I stayed home," Perez said.
Perez said he was fearful about going outside and being in crowds, but now he's taking on surfing.
"I’m really having fun," Perez said, "for the first time in my life. My spirit is coming back to life."
Perez is taking on the waves at La Jolla Shores along with dozens of other physically and psychologically injured veterans.
"Some of them can’t walk, some of them struggle. I can walk so I’m there for them, and I’m constantly cheering them on," Perez said.
It’s part of the Veterans Affairs' effort to get the nearly 60,000 veterans who were wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan out of the doctor's office and outside into the world.
Perez said the waves provide a healing that goes beyond any kind of medicine.
"I really felt a connection out there in the water and it felt very therapeutic, very at peace," Perez explained.
He said the ocean is building his self-confidence. He hoped to encourage other veterans to try it.
"Being comfortable, you’re never going to grow. But if this makes you uncomfortable, to do this then I definitely encourage them to come out and do it," Perez said.
Perez said this week has been life-changing for him. He plans to take his new skills and renewed outlook on life back home with him to Riverside.
"I’m going to buy a surfboard," he announced. "Yeah, I’m going to start surfing."