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A Combat Veteran’s Journey From the Front Lines to Off-Road Racing

Nick Hamm’s Warrior Built Foundation serves as an alternative therapy for veterans​

After 20 years in the Marine Corps, 1st Sgt. Nick Hamm can positively say he thrives on the adrenaline rush that is familiar to all combat veterans. Even after a severe injury, he volunteered to return to the front lines. This passion, combined with his lifelong enthusiasm for motorcycles and off-road activities, drove him to establish The Warrior Built Foundation. 

This off-road racing company is staffed by combat veteran volunteers, and it aims to recapture the camaraderie and teamwork of military life while providing a safe and supportive environment where veterans can come together to race, bond and heal.

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“That whole risk factor, they want to feel alive again,” said Hamm, 46. “It’s a common thing with combat veterans. They want to feel that high they had in combat, that extreme adrenaline rush being here in this environment. It’s like a mission. Everyone has a job, and they can feel part of the team.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom

In 2005, Hamm was a platoon sergeant in Iraq operating in enemy territory when communications went down. While troubleshooting the radio system, he remembers hearing a boom before “everything went black.”

“I remember my legs hurting really bad. Did I lose both my legs?” he said. “The next thing I knew, I woke up in this tent hospital in Iraq.”

Hamm was told that he had undergone surgery and doctors were unsure whether they would be able to save his leg.

Although his leg was repaired, Hamm knew he wouldn’t be the same after the injuries he’d sustained. His life took a dark turn with substance abuse and divorce.

“I took a look in the mirror and [realized] I’m going down the wrong path,” he said.

He shifted focus to his recovery process and getting healthy again. Less than two years later, he volunteered to return to Iraq with his same unit, giving him the closure that many wounded veterans don’t have.

“Whatever that was inside me, that resiliency, that’s what drove me,” he said.

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New beginnings

In 2011, Hamm had an idea to build a motorcycle with other wounded combat veterans and take it to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The show is an enormous trade event for the automotive specialty equipment industry.

“All those combat vets that helped me do that saw the change that happened to me,” he said. “They knew my story; I knew their story. We were having that brotherhood, that camaraderie.”

Following the show, their enthusiasm for motorcycle building led them to expand into other types of projects, giving rise to The Warrior Built Foundation.

Since 2012, the nonprofit has built trucks, cars and motorcycles, and even races them in competitions like the Baja 1000 and the California 300.

Along with their fabrication bays in Lake Elsinore, California, the group has a music studio and a therapy room where patrons can utilize programs that engage them in various types of healing practices. The programs normalize finding ways to cope with the fear, anxiety and PTSD resulting from combat, and serve as a real-life example of alternative therapy.

“If I had never started Warrior Built, honestly, it would be hard for me to imagine that right now, because of how much it’s brought into my life — how many friends I’ve met, how many people I’ve helped,” said Hamm. “I’m married again and had two more beautiful girls in my life. My life is 100 percent different.”

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