Imagine rowing a boat for thousands of miles. One group of Army veterans completed a 3,000-mile trip to raise awareness and money for PTSD.
Brad Byrd:Welcome to In Depth. Imagine rowing a boat for thousands of miles. Well, a group of army veterans completed a 3,000-mile trip for a good cause. The group is called ‘fight Oar Die’. The team rowed from the Canary Islands to Antigua to raise awareness and money for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The men left the Canary Islands back in December. it was a three-thousand-mile trip. One member of the Fight Oar Die effort is an Evansville native. His name is Alex Evans.
Alex — why did you do this?
Alex Evans: PTSD, TBI, Integration issues have always plagued our veterans, it’s no secret. Myself and everybody on the team has had a friend that has ultimately decided to hang the boots up for the last time, and so it was really important for us to do something. Not just have a 5K and do it for one day – start a movement, something that’s sustaining – we can hold a conversation, we can continue to fundraise, we can do outreach and we can align ourselves with somebody that’s able to help these guys, namely the University of Denver Sterns Specialty and Psychology where they train doctors to treat PTSD.
Brad Byrd: And your mission – how long did this take to get from the Canary Islands to Antigua?
Alex Evans: 54 days, nine hours and some change.
Brad Byrd: Not that you’re counting, right?
Alex Evans: Somebody else did that, by the time you see the finish line, it’s about time to get that thing in there.
Brad Byrd: Just looking at this, this was somewhat dangerous. Tell me about that aspect. The physical toll it had to take on you and your three fellow veterans.
Alex Evans: As far as the physical toll, we had blisters, salt sores, that sort of thing. Obviously, we had muscle soreness. I think the toughest physical thing we had to deal with was the prolonged physical discomfort – lack of sleep, extreme heat, then cold at night, lack of sleep, and then sitting down on the same seat back and forth – 12 hours a day for 54 days. It really takes a toll on your body.
Brad Byrd: And can we take a look at that video again of the two veterans rowing – but those compartments, the aft and the bow – that’s where you rested right?
Alex Evans: Correct, well, myself and Bo were in the bow cabin and then Bryant and Chris were in the aft cabin. So, Bryant and I would row together, and Chris and Bo would row together. When we rotated out, it helped keep the balance of the boat. We only had one person in the cabin at a time. We kind of used the rotation as a means of balance and as a means of work.
Brad Byrd: You guys obviously had a lot of support. But this shot where we saw them greeting you, where was that?
Alex Evans: That was Antigua and our following was awesome. We had people we didn’t even know show up in Antigua. Bryant’s mother, my mother – both showed up there and really surprised us. Our following has grown quite a bit, and it’s actually quite amazing. You can tell what we meant to do is working. We’re getting phone calls from the outreach and we’re conducting, and people are getting involved in the conversation.
Brad Byrd: PTSD – we talk about that more – it’s been around forever – but it’s in the forefront now because we know precisely what it is. Was there a personal story that touched you that ignited you to be a part of this?
Alex Evans: Bo and I had a friend that committed suicide that really struck us to start something. Initially, I had a friend that had lost his leg and he had done this, this challenge himself and he had done this with amputees, able bodied persons alike and they raised 1.4 million pounds, he was a British guy. So, it’s been a long time coming and what really sparked the fire was a suicide of our friend.
Brad Byrd: You had tours in Iraq and you were a Staff Sergeant you had a tremendous responsibility and I won’t say kids, but you had a lot of men and women under your rank, tell me about some of the human aspects of that because every soldier has a story and whether it be a Marine or a soldier, that is worth retelling. But the human aspect of that.
Alex Evans: As a leader, anybody who’s a leader, if you’re doing your job correctly and you really care about your subordinates, then that’s about it. They essentially are your children. And they’re also your brothers and sisters. You have a family-type love for everybody you serve with and even now, we feel the same way about each and every veteran out there. So, when we have people follow us and respond to the outreach, we take that to heart. So, it’s no different out of the service than in the service. We look at the veteran issue the same as if it were in our ranks.
Brad Byrd: And do you have a ballpark idea of how much was raised with this effort.
Alex Evans: Sure. Just over $3,000.
Brad Byrd: You were telling me there are fewer people who have done this than people who have gone into outer space and climbed the tallest mountains on Earth – so it’s something special, but it’s been going on for some time.
Alex Evans: Correct. Ocean Crossings have been going on for quite some time. The Talisker Whiskey Challenge has been going on for upwards of a decade, maybe a little longer. I was told up until this year, more people have climbed Everest every year than ever done this. So, I think that’s a pretty nice number. And of course, more people have gone to outer space than doing this.
Brad Byrd: Would you do this again?
Alex Evans: I would. Chris Koontz and I have said that we’d be permanent alternates in case nobody else can do it. Now, would I do it again next week? I’m not quite sure. It’s not something that I would put out of the realm of possibility.
Brad Byrd: It’s a small world I understand – you’re a good friend of Alan Kissinger, grew up together, did a profile on Alan a few years ago. A Marine, always a Marine. And Alan if you’re watching, thank you for your service and thank you for your service, Sgt. Evans. Good luck on your next mission.
Alex Evans: Thank you, thank you sir. This goes on all year every year – we’re pushing teams from now through 2020. We’ve got a skipper for 2020. The mission doesn’t stop right now, we keep the fundraising going, we keep the outreach going. And we’ll keep rowing and I look forward to everyone getting involved. You can check us out on Facebook at Fight Oar Die – spelled O-A-R; Fight Oar Die because puns are fun. You can look at USVetrow.org – find us on there. You can find us on Instagram at Fight Oar Die as well.
Brad Byrd: Staff Sgt. Alex Evans, from the US Army, kind of an expert on rowing a boat, thank you for joining us.
Alex Evans: Thank you for having me.
(This story was originally published on February 19, 2019)