“Thank you for your service.” Chances are you’ve said this to a veteran, and probably more than once. We are grateful for their courage, their time spent away from families, for the risks they take, and the incredible sacrifices they make. We are grateful for what they have done for us, and often times we may be left wondering what we can truly do for them, aside from expressions of gratitud
That’s the very question that led me to what may become the journey of a lifetime. A native of Hereford, England and now a resident of Atlanta, Georgia, and a veteran myself. I joined the British Royal Marines in 1990, following a couple of winter deployments in Norway and serving in the First Gulf War I went on to spend a decade as a member of the Special Boat Service (SBS) – the British equivalent to the Navy SEALs, and for the past 17 years I have had several roles in travel and security risk management.
A few years ago, I took part in the #22PushupChallenge, for those of you that may not remember is was a social media campaign developed to raise awareness for the 22 veteran deaths by suicide that happen every day in the United States, according to a 2012 Department of Veteran’s Affairs report. Soon after participating in this challenge, I reconnected with a old friend that I had served alongside during my time in the Royal Marines. Six weeks later, I cam to learn that he had taken his own life following a battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The somber truth is that rates of suicide and mental illness among active duty military and veterans are staggering. With an estimated 20-22 suicide deaths per day, that equates to 1 veteran taking his or her life every 65 minutes. For each of these deaths, there are years of suffering and anguish that have come before. And for every victim of suicide, there are countless family members and friends that are irrevocably impacted by their loss. Many service men and women may struggle with PTSD and are afraid to ask for help. This can be attributed to any number of things, including the stigma associated with mental illness, fear of being discharged or losing one’s clearance. There is one thing that cannot be denied: this is an epidemic.
So, I decided I had to do something, something big and it perhaps doesn't get any bigger than rowing an ocean by oneself. As part of the 2018 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, I will be rowing a 24-foot boat for 3,000 nautical miles (4,828 kilometers) across the Atlantic, by myself. This challenge will help raise money for US-based Give An Hour and UK-based Combat Stress charities. Both of these organizations work to raise awareness and provide support for veterans who are struggling with mental illness.
Raising money for these charities is important, as they do so much for so many. But money isn’t all there is – for me, this row is also about awareness. Awareness of the fact that it’s ok not to be ok. As a society, we need to remove the stigma associated with mental health. If you do need help, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Know that you are not alone and there are many resources available to you.
On the morning of 12th December, the plan is to depart in my boat, “The Kraken” from La Gomera, in the Canary Islands west to Antigua. This is considered to be the world’s toughest row and requires a level of mental and physical endurance that few can fathom. For perspective, fewer people have crossed the Atlantic solo than have summited Mount Everest or even been to space.
My goal is to reach Antigua in 50 days or less, which means I will have to row an average of 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) per day. I will celebrate Christmas, New Year’s Day and my 48th birthday alone on the open ocean. During the row, I will battle sleep deprivation, unpredictable weather patterns, salt sores, infections and sheer exhaustion.
Many have helped to get me this far and there are many on my team helping complete the crossing but we still have room for more. If you'd like to learn more about sponsorship opportunities please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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