When we launched the concept of Operation Denali, summiting the mountain was intended to be the culmination of our journey of recovery. Instead, it has opened doors everywhere and reached an audience far greater than we ever expected. The recognition given by National Geographic Adventure and those of you who love the spirit of adventure have had a hand in that. The combined effect of this broad community of interest and support has spread the word and brought inspiration and motivation to many of our Wounded Warriors, which was the main goal of the climb. For that you have my thanks!
Because of that, the adventure won’t stop there! Since Denali, I’ve continued my search for adventure both in and out of the great state of Alaska, while simultaneously working hard in service to our nation. After completing a swift water rescue technician course, I jumped headlong into running Alaskan whitewater in one of our favorite modes of travel….pack rafting (check out our videos). Pack rafting holds some of us more ‘adrenaline oriented’ folks over until we can carve turns in the backcountry powder of Turnagain Arm.
When I wasn’t pack rafting, My wife and I were climbing or biking the backcountry. In August, I raced the 109 miles of rugged single track in the Soggy Bottom 100 then Gayle and I took a brief hiatus to the Big Island of Hawaii in October. There we ran the trails of Volcanoes National Park, horse trekked Waipio Valley, and climbed the highpoint of Hawaii, Mount Mauna Kea (13,803 feet)…all in about four days—life is too short to just lie on the beach! We continued training, climbing, and skiing through the sub zero Alaskan winter months as we had our sights on another climb, this time it would be Mount Kilimanjaro, nestled along the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
Throughout the last few months, I’ve also had some incredible opportunities to share the story of Operation Denali through presentations with numerous groups and several radio broadcasts. The response has been enthusiastic and supportive. Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell even recognized our efforts with the Governor’s Veteran’s Advocacy Award. I’ve continued working to help my fellow wounded, looking for opportunities wherever possible. In coordination with the State of Alaska, we began a Service Dog program where dogs of appropriate temperament are selected from the Matsu Animal Shelter and inmates at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center train them as Service Dogs. The dogs are then provided to Wounded Warriors in need. This has turned out to be a great rehabilitative program for the inmates and meets a special need for our Service Members. So far we’ve issued two service dogs and a third one is in the pipeline.
I also had the opportunity to join a unique program, the Ride to Recovery for a 400-mile bicycle ride throughout Florida in early December. It was an awesome experience to ride pace line with some dedicated cyclists…almost all of whom were wounded warriors like me. These guys were inspirational in their perseverance and in the joy they took out of the challenge of the ride. Thank you John Wordin for putting together an incredible program to focus the rehabilitation of our wounded!
And now, I shift my focus to the year ahead. Plans are in the making for another Wounded Warrior summit climb. We are tentatively looking at Argentina and the summit of Aconcagua, but we still need to recruit, train and fund a new team of Wounded Warriors for the climb. This planning will occur in parallel with my main focus for the next year as I will be training and preparing myself and my Soldiers for another deployment to the Middle East. Upon return from deployment, our goal is to complete the next Wounded Warrior climb around February of 2012.
Thanks for all you do and remember, when in doubt, go up! Climb On!
- Nat Geo Expeditions