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Learn the incredible story of Connected Warriors.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
March 12, 2020
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Judy Weaver Southerner of the Year: The Peacemaker
Credit: Ben Winkler

Beau MacVane returned from his fifth combat tour in the Middle East in 2006. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Determined to approach the disease holistically, the young army vet walked into Yoga South, the Boca Raton studio where Judy Weaver taught.

Although MacVane’s debilitating disease progressed rapidly, Weaver worked with him twice a week until his death in 2009. “I saw how this practice kept the whole family out of depression,” she says.

“That year, I also saw a movie called The Hurt Locker, and I turned to my husband [an air force veteran] and said, ‘That’s upside down. The military teaches [troops] to be present in chaos, but it doesn’t teach them to be present in peace. I can fix that.’ ”

In 2010, Weaver reached out to Vietnam War veteran Ralph Iovino, a marine she had trained to be a yoga teacher a few years prior, saying, “If you bring me veterans, I will teach free classes.” With that, Connected Warriors was born.

The duo distributed flyers, created a press release, and anticipated the impact they would have on former members of the military. Nobody showed up for that first class. No one came for a few months.

Weaver realized that if she wanted her mission to take off, she needed to fight the stigma around yoga, especially among military members. Today, Connected Warriors teaches trauma-conscious yoga classes in 25 states, as well as 32 VA hospitals and 16 active-duty military installations. About 98% of the teachers donate their time, and 99% of their locations donate space. “In our 10 years, we’ve had no reported suicides,” she says. (The VA has estimated that an average of 17 veterans commit suicide each day.)

She has even enlisted veterans as teachers. Connected Warriors board member Ken Bingham, a 71-year-old retired navy fighter pilot with 44 years of service, struggled on his path to become a yoga teacher. “I tried to quit three times,” he says, “but Judy wouldn’t let me. She said, ‘What if I go and tell your cadets that you’re a quitter?’ ”

Weaver may not be in the room when Bingham guides his class through chaturanga push-ups every Wednesday, but her spirit is palpable. And with each deep inhale the yogis take, MacVane’s enduring gift lives on.