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Veteran's Voice: After multiple near-death experiences, vet helps others through yoga

Posted: 11:06 AM, Nov 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-06 23:53:37-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — If there was ever a person who pushed through life's obstacles, it's Leland Holgate.

The Air Force veteran said he saw his father dedicate part of his life to the military, and that admiration, combined with seeing Top Gun, led himself to the service.

He was active duty for two and a half years from 1997 to 1999, and in that time he was a C-130 Loadmaster. Holgate was in charge of loading and unloading his aircraft and oversaw airdrops.

His service took him to Yugoslavia where the first of his major life obstacles began.

"It was a lot more real in some ways, especially with the brothers that we lost, those that didn’t come with us or those that came home in a different way," said Holgate.

He said there was one moment when they were flying and they were under attack. His crew looked to him for advice and all of them saw their lives flash before their eyes.

"It became a real duty to me at that point to just be there for the person to my left and the person to my right because everything is way different than you ever would’ve expected it to be once you actually get over there," said Holgate.

He survived that day and was able to return to the United States for a brief break. On the break, he faced another of life's challenges.

He and his friends were boating and he happened to hit the water wrong. The next thing he knew, Holgate was in an ambulance and medics were poking his body.

But he says couldn't feel any of it.

Holgate had become paralyzed from the neck down.

"[I was] sweating and crying and going through the gut-wrenching thoughts of just not wanting to be anymore, asking people if they would help me end my life. I didn’t want to do this. I couldn’t do this," remembers Holgate.

Then, a mental shift saved his life.

"Something clicked on that second day and I told myself, 'No, this isn’t going to be my life. This isn’t what I’m going to be. This isn’t what I’m meant for,'" said Holgate.

He started physical therapy and eventually regained the feeling in his body. During that time, he didn't realize that yoga was a huge part of what helped him recover.

Although his body was healing, his mind wasn't.

The next part of his life was a battle with addiction and alcoholism, issues that stemmed from scars he had gained in the military.

He says the final big blow happened in 2016 when his father, a fellow veteran, took his own life.

"He was one of our 22 plus a day suicides. He couldn’t fight past the demons, he couldn’t do it anymore," said Holgate of his father.

This was the moment that Holgate said changed his life.

His father's death pushed him to turn his life into something good. He dedicated his time to helping others find mental and physical healing through trauma recovery yoga, as he had.

"If I was there for other people, I wasn’t quite so much in my own head. I wasn’t worried about me anymore. It was the biggest wake-up I ever got in my life when my dad took his own life," said Holgate.

He started a nonprofit in 2019, Warriors for Life America, and now teaches classes at the Downtown Yoga and Wellness Co-op on 701 East Bridger Avenue in downtown Las Vegas.

"I know that’s why I’m here. After all the horrible things that I went through and saw and did myself, I recognized I only went through those things so I could teach people this," he said.

"So I could teach people the lighter side of life and teach them just how powerful they are."

If you know a veteran who should be featured on this weekly series, email veteranvoice@ktnv.com.