Four veterans, each representing a different branch of the military and ranging in age from 49 to 58, departed from La Gomera, Spain, on Dec. 12 to row over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua to raise awareness and money to combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and veteran suicide.
The team, named Foar From Home (a play on words combining “four,” far” and “oar”), made a goal to raise $500,000 to support their fellow service members as part of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, a worldwide fundraiser also referred to as the World’s Toughest Row. This year only four U.S.-based teams are participating, each with its own charitable cause.
“We thought this race would be a great way to combine our military experience with a large-scale fundraiser to really make an impact,” said Billy Ciminio, an Army veteran who will turn 57 during the trip.
Prior to their training, the team members had never rowed before. Over an estimated 43 to 50 days they will continuously alternate rowing for two hours and sleeping for two hours while pummeling through waves that may reach up to 20 feet. They have no toilet on board, only a bucket.
Their intensive preparation included medical training such as learning how to connect an IV because they are rowing completely on their own.
Two yachts shadow the fleet of teams with a safety officer who provides advice, support, technical assistance and weather updates. For food, each rower has prepackaged meals based on their caloric needs. The boat's jet boiler heats water to rehydrate their meals.
Foar From Home’s oldest member, Paul Lore, a Marine Corps veteran, commented on the physical demands expected during the journey: “I will turn 59 on this trip, which is wild to think about. Most people who are about to turn 60 probably aren’t thinking about going on a trip where they’ll only sleep for two hours at a time. But hey, the good news is that we’ll each be burning around 5,000 calories a day and skipping holiday meals, so come January, we should be in the best shape of our lives.”
An important cause
The service members’ main fundraising beneficiary, K9s for Warriors, is the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for veterans. Most of the dogs, which are trained to alleviate service-connected traumas, are rescued from animal shelters or surrendered by their owners, often saving them from abandonment or euthanasia. After being rescued, the dogs are specially trained to aid veterans suffering from PTSD. Dogs unable to “graduate” from the training program are instead adopted to homes or enter the K9FW Station Dog Program, which helps mitigate stress common to dispatch operators, first responders and police officers.
“As veterans, we know all too well how many service members often struggle with a variety of issues including cognitive mental health issues such as PTSD, reintegration into their communities or families, identity issues, thoughts of suicide or financial issues,” said team member and Navy veteran A.M. “Hupp” Huppman, 55. “We hope our fundraising efforts and awareness will help some of those brave men and women who have fought so hard for this country.”
Although no U.S. team has ever won this challenge, the team members have been blown away by the positive response they received even before embarking on the trip.
“We really can’t thank the community enough for their donations that have now exceeded $500,000 and to the rowing coaches at Jacksonville University who have spent months training four middle-aged men who have never rowed before,” said Air Force veteran Cameron Hansen, 49.
Anyone who would like to support the Foar From Home team and help fight veteran suicide may donate here.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.