Tonight, just as many Americans will be settling into a restful sleep on dry land, a team of four veterans will undertake a challenge that has never been surmounted before: attempting to become the first all-American team of veterans to row across the Atlantic Ocean. For the next month, and that’s if all things go well, the team known as Fight Oar Die will call a 28-foot boat home.
On Wednesday morning, the team will depart from Spain’s Canary Islands and row 3,000 nautical miles to Antigua as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. For these veterans, their new mission is to call attention to and destigmatize the mental health issues that have plagued American Veterans.
“You gotta do something insane in order to get attention anymore, right? You can’t just hold a 5K anymore. That’s boring,” said Alex Evans, in an August interview with the DU newsroom.
The four men have spent the past year preparing physically and mentally for the voyage ahead. They have received extensive help from Jacob Hyde, a clinical assistant professor in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. The issues that plague American veterans have been the focus of his research within the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology.
“This generation of millennial warfighters seems to be more interested in activities and experiences that involve physical activity and recreation,” Hyde says. “Younger veterans aren’t exactly lining up to be in clinical trials or to come into a lab. We have to go to the veterans where they are and research and work with them in an environment that is enjoyable and in a way that is palatable and attractive to them.”
Fight Oar Die has spent months training on rowing machines, practicing in the Gulf of Mexico and taking lifesaving courses in preparation for their time at sea. All along, Hyde and his graduate students have provided personalized psychological evaluation and designed countermeasures to combat the stress and mental grind the team will likely face. With this information, coupled with results of assessments planned for the team during and after the race, Hyde hopes to have new insights into treating and preventing the mental health issues confronting American veterans.
“This work could help develop newer and better ways to prepare individuals undertaking work with isolated, confined and extreme environments,” he says. “Voluntary exposure to psychological and cognitive stress like spaceflight, ocean rowing and military service is different than unintentional exposure, like being trapped in a cave. If we can properly train individuals undertaking voluntary exposure, then we can create psychological growth after exposure.”
It’s thinking like this, along with other initiatives geared toward veterans, that attracted Fight Oar Die to DU. Since coming to campus with the boat earlier this fall, the team has received support and well wishes from the campus community, including Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, the rowing team, the cheer squad and the hockey team. While a large amount of the money the team has raised has gone to covering expenses, anything beyond that will be donated to DU and the support of veterans.