(WSYM) — The month of May is mental health awareness month and a time to focus on the stories of those who have battled anxiety, depression and everything in between.
NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series driver Cody Ware recently opened up about his traumatic experiences growing up, which included severe bullying throughout the past decade.
"At the end of middle school and going into high school it definitely got more physical and violent and things like that," Ware told FOX 17 in an interview.
The 26-year-old has been racing in NASCAR for several years now but that wasn't without a lot of personal hardship along the way.
"There was that incident where I was set on fire out in the woods by a bunch of kids."
That's right, when he was just 15-years-old, Ware was tackled to the ground by a group of bullies with his legs soaked in gasoline and set on fire.
The kids would strand Ware in those woods for 20 to 30 minutes.
"I didn't feel a whole lot of pain in the moment," he recalled, "I remember when it initially happened, I could smell burning skin and feel the heat but I didn't feel the pain of the heat."
Ware would remain in those woods until one of the kids involved in the incident came back to help him, urging him not to tell anybody about it.
"I remember pulling skin from my legs as this kid is telling me not to tell anyone," Ware added.
He would suffer from third degree burns and spend months recovering from the physical toll.
However, deep inside, he never recovered from the emotional burden it took on him.
"I didn't even realize until probably last year that my depression and anxiety was a result of PTSD of a traumatic experience that I had. I'm kind of acknowledging that and working through that aspect has been a huge help."
The North Carolina native is in his first full-time season in NASCAR's top series racing in the No. 51 car and says racing has been a refuge to free his mind from it all.
"Racing full-time is a blessing but it's also my escape but it's also where i can finally turn off all the noise in my head and enjoy life."
Ware admits he has kept to himself about his ongoing struggles until a few years ago and continues to seek help for it.
He's now hoping his story can help others.
"I want to be the person that wasn't there for me when I needed it," Ware said, "my way of coping with my past and my demons is giving back."
And that is exactly what he has done.
Ware says it doesn't matter how much money you make or what you look like; mental health will not discriminate.
"Just because you've had traumatic experiences or you have mental health issues from an incident or you were born with it and it's a position you've had your whole life, I want to show people you can still live your best life and find a way to find your peace."
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