Wounded vet and wife start business
ELMWOOD PARK, Wis. (AP) — In 2004, while serving in Iraq as part of an Army combat patrol team, Nick Loomis was caught in a mortar attack. A shell exploded 7 feet away from him, leaving more than 1,000 individual wounds, ripping a tendon in one leg in half.
He needed both of his wrists cauterized. Shrapnel lodged inside his head later became infected. Four surgeries were required to repair his retina, and he doesn’t have any feeling in the lower half of his left leg to this day.
He returned to his hometown, Racine, in late 2005 with a Purple Heart. To date, he’s had 31 surgeries, and his left calf and foot are still dead weight, supported by a brace with a Harley-Davidson insignia.
Loomis married his wife, Abrianna, in May 2008, but still had trouble resettling into civilian life. Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression became constants, as they are for many veterans.
In the past couple years, however, he’s started to come around the corner. Inspiration was found, strangely, in his ear and on a Harley.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie and that’s just the way it is. Hurt or not hurt, I learned to ride (motorcycles) again so that I could go fast. That’s basically it,” Loomis said, talking in his living room at his home in Elmwood Park.
When he came back home in 2005, it took several years to relearn how to ride and how to walk. A perforated eardrum made balance difficult, especially once it got cold.
Like a lot of things with his readjustment, he said he just shut up and dealt with it. A couple years ago, Abrianna encouraged him to find a solution.
“My wife is, honestly, the drive behind this,” Loomis said. “She’s the rock, the one that dragged me through the tough times.”
Keeping his head warm while wearing sunglasses was difficult. There weren’t any hats that accommodated glasses, but Loomis needed both to comfortably ride.
So, Abrianna pulled out her sewing machine and went to work.
“I made one for myself to see how it would go, but it was a lot of trial and error,” Loomis said.
The couple tested a handful of designs before finding a quality prototype: two narrow Velcro slits on either side of a beanie.
It was simple, and it worked. Loomis’ shades would stay in place or could rest comfortably on top of his head without falling off.
The Journal Times reports that CM Skullies was born. Last September, the couple acquired a patent and started selling them soon after. In less than six months, they’d sold more than 1,000 hats, fulfilling orders from mechanics, construction workers and the Los Angeles Police Department.
“It started to evolve into how many different people could use it,” Loomis said. “It’s an everyday product. We didn’t realize it … we’re the only one out there on the market that does anything like it.”
Abrianna and Nick are Racine natives. Nick Loomis graduated from Park High School in 2001; he is an assistant coach for the St. Catherine’s High School football team.
Nick’s father was known around town as “Cave” or “Caveman,” Nick said. He was a “rough and tumble type of person” who liked to go fast, just like his son. He inspired the name of the company: CM, for Caveman.
Caveman passed away suddenly several years ago. A devoted family man, Loomis named the company that gave him purpose after his father, who had given him life.
Feelings of loneliness are an ongoing battle for Loomis.
Whenever he goes on marketing trips to sell the beanies, he’s usually accompanied a close friend or family member.
“If it had been me, alone, I would’ve been dead five, six, 10 years ago,” Loomis said. “I would’ve driven my motorcycle into the back of a semi or something.”
After retiring from the military, Loomis felt generally unmotivated. He was still recovering from surgeries and had ongoing injuries, and the Army’s structured regimen was long gone.
“When you’re serving in combat, there’s an intense sense of camaraderie and being part of a team and a mission,” said Ryan Herringa, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Even if someone doesn’t have PTSD, (veterans) may struggle to find a sense of belonging and being part of something bigger than themselves.”
Today, Loomis talks excitedly about his work. He bounces between topics and projects quickly, and it’s as easy for him to discuss his PTSD as it is talking about his growing business or ever-supporting wife or beloved dogs.
“Three kids, three dogs and a business to run. It gets to be a lot. But I feel like that this business has given me a purpose again. I wasn’t a productive member of society for many years,” Loomis said. “I was basically unemployable.”