MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
As Shannon Mullen reports, they're getting a lot more than exercise.
SHANNON MULLEN: Hurling, not to be confused with the winter sport of curling, is a combination of football, ice hockey and lacrosse.
(SOUNDBITE OF YELLING)
MULLEN: Picture guys in helmets with sticks. They use the flat end to whack a fist-sized ball up the field on the ground or in the air. There's checking, a lot of scrambling for the ball and sprinting and the pitch is even longer than a football field.
MULLEN: Celtic warriors brought this high contact field sport to Ireland thousands of years ago, but its physical intensity and fast pace still attract soldiers today.
ROB BURNHAM: I've said that stepping off the pitch is something like stepping off the field of battle or coming off the mission.
MULLEN: National Guard Captain Rob Burnham is a member of the Barley House Wolves, a hurling club in Concord, New Hampshire. He says more than half of his teammates are combat veterans.
BURNHAM: It's something healthy. It's something physical that allows you to, you know, blow off some steam and something to look forward to that's different than being a member of, say, the VFW.
MULLEN: The team was founded in 2006 by National Guard soldiers from Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Mountain Infantry based in New Hampshire. On their way home from a deployment to Iraq, they saw a hurling match on TV in an Irish airport.
RAY VALAS: We're like, what was that sport? Someone said, oh, that's hurling. And it just kind of called out to us.
MULLEN: Lieutenant Colonel Ray Valas is one of the team's founders. He says hurling seemed like a good way for his unit to keep in touch and stay in shape, but as the team grew to include other military branches, it started to mean something more.
VALAS: I recently had a guy that plays on the club that's played for a few years come up to me and said, hey, you know, I never mentioned this to you, but I just want to thank you for getting this club started. And I said, well, yeah, no sweat. He said, no, you don't understand. He said, after Afghanistan, I had a really rough time and this changed my life.
MULLEN: Sergeant First Class Roy Lowes deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 as a combat medic to help train Afghan soldiers. He says, because of the constant danger, he felt safe only with people he knew he could trust.
ROY LOWES: I wish there was a way I could just go, click, and switch it off, you know, as you take your uniform off, that you shed that, but you can't. I'm a lot better now. When I first got back, I couldn't stand in line in Wal-Mart for more than a couple minutes, then I had to leave.
MULLEN: Lowes says he was jumpy and aggressive for months. Then he heard about the Barley House Wolves.
LOWES: Some part of me really needed that small team environment. That player, who has the same jersey as I have, I know he's there. I know he has my back. I don't have to think about it. I don't have to second guess anything.
MULLEN: For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen.
BLOCK: And one final note on hurling. It is a men's sport, but there is a women's version called camogie and the Barley House Wolves say they're helping their female comrades in New Hampshire start a team of their own.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.