These Vets Are Going to Amazing Lengths to Fund-Raise Through Extreme Challenges

Pushing themselves hard is what our military is good at—so these efforts are probably second nature.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 8, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Mike Dowling is author of Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog, and cofounder of the non profit Veterans in Film & Television. He is a contributor to Take Part Live’s “Return The Service" campaign honoring the military veteran community.

Recently, U.S. Navy Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class Mike McCastle did what a lot of members of our armed forces are known to do: He pushed himself to the very limit of his physical abilities in the best interest of his friends in uniform. But McCastle wasn’t engaged on a distant battlefield—he was at Fort Nugent Park in Washington state, attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the number of pull-ups done in 24 hours.

McCastle doesn’t care about seeing his name in the paperback book of weird feats alongside the lady with crazy long nails and the guy who ate the most eggs in one sitting. He did it to raise awareness and money for the Wounded Warrior Project. He completed 3,202 pull-ups (approximately 3,201 more than the average American can do) before being hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscles break down from overexertion and that, unless treated, can cause serious damage.

McCastle fell about 800 pull-ups short of beating the record, but he still won: His efforts raised around $10,000 for veterans programs.

Veterans can get used to pushing their physical and mental limits during their time in service. We do it because we know that the lives of the people serving alongside us depend on it. It’s no wonder that many take part in runs and events to support veterans, and some are so dedicated to raising awareness that they push themselves to their limits.

They’re doing it because they are hoping to save lives. While many veterans make a successful transition from their service to becoming a civilian, there is currently an unfathomable statistic: 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Most veterans have friends in the service who have either attempted or committed suicide. I have had a few friends lose their battle to mental health, and I always worry about others, even those who don’t show signs of emotional instability.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has had great campaigns, such as the Veterans Crisis Line and Make the Connection, to try to help with the stigma of reaching out for help. But with the VA’s shortcomings revealed to have left servicemen and women dead, it can be difficult for veterans to put their full faith and trust in VA programs.

In the meantime, they feel compelled to take care of their own.

Take Cpl. Joshua Ploetz, a Marine veteran who paddled 2,575 miles down the Mississippi River in a canoe. It’s a journey he started on May 19 and completed on July 28 to raise awareness for veterans suffering from mental health issues. Ploetz felt lost in his own struggles with PTSD and decided paddling down the river would give him some focus and direction to help him cope while also raising awareness for PTSD. He hopes to inspire others to take action after hearing about his journey. He plans to participate in the Marine Corps marathon as well.

Two more Marine veterans, Adam Shatarsky and Ross Delafield, began a walk on Aug. 1 across the Mojave Desert to raise awareness for mental health issues among vets. The walk is called Mission: Mojave; the desert often has temperatures surpassing 120 degrees, the same sort of blistering heat many vets remember from serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. They call it The Wounded Walk, and supporters can keep track of their progress.

Finally, Capt. Justin Fitch, an active-duty Army officer, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May 2012 and has decided to spend the rest of his time raising awareness for veterans’ mental health. Since learning of his prognosis he has participated in ruck marches, long walks that military members often do. The Carry the Fallen ruck marches are 12 hours long, and Capt. Finch has raised $112,000 with his team and $60,000 personally. His cancer has now limited his ability to walk the full course, but he still plans to ride in the command-and-control vehicle in upcoming marches.

More support and change to help with veteran suicide is needed, and veterans aren’t waiting to do their part in helping to save one another, even if it means physically exhausting themselves in the process.