By Julie Huynh
When you get a flesh wound, the immediate reaction is to triage the wound, assess the severity of the injury, and take appropriate steps to provide the best outcome for healing. Well, what happens when your injury is internal and you are unable to see that you are wounded? How do you save yourself from bleeding out?
Will Schmidt, a former United States Marine, suffered from lifelong debilitating anxiety and depression. In 2009, he reached a point so low that he attempted suicide.
“I had a bottle of pills and a bottle of whiskey to chase it down,” Schmidt said. “I had called in sick to work and my plan was to not wake up again. That’s when my mom, who is on the other side of the country, called me. She heard the desperation in my voice and promised to come out and kick my ass if I didn’t do something about it. Since I am an avid waterman, she suggested that I take my paddleboard out to the ocean.”
And he did. Schmidt is a firm believer that he found his vindication for life on the water.
“That was the point where I decided to turn things around,” Scmidt said. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the rest of the year. Stand up paddleboarding saved my life.”
In his case, depression is a genetic condition and he does not blame his five years serving as a Stinger Missile Gunner and Light Armored Vehicle Crewman for the United States Marine Corps as the catalyst for his symptoms. He does, however, strongly sympathize with military members and comrades whose tours overseas are directly responsible for their mental ailments.
“Many veterans come home and they aren’t ready to talk about what they are dealing with,” Schmidt said. “I want them to know that they aren’t being weak, that depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are internal injuries. Though it is not one of the flesh and bone, they still need to seek help to get better.”
A Floating Journey
With his new-found zest for life and an undying passion for paddleboarding, Schmidt set forth to share his knowledge with other people suffering from debilitating anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
In May 2014, he went on a two-month coastal paddleboarding excursion and became the first man to stand-up paddleboard (SUP) from Canada to Mexico. His goal was to make a statement, accomplish something treacherous, and raise awareness for depression and PTSD as well as build funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I navigated a SIC F-16 stand-up paddleboard solo and largely unassisted from the USA/Canadian border at Strait of Juan de Fuca and paddled 1,386 miles south to the USA/Mexico border in Imperial Beach, California,” Schmidt said.
At one stroke per second, Will Schmidt paddled over 1.1 million strokes during this 61 days of adventure. The longest distance he paddled in one day was 42 miles.
Sounds crazy, right? To prepare for this intense excursion, Schmidt trained in the most uncomfortable and adverse conditions to mimic situations he might encounter during the real trip.
“I had to train myself to endure long periods of time in the water,” Schmidt said. “On hot days I would pile on more clothes, I’d wear too little when it was cold, and I would train while I was hungry and tired. I wanted to get used to being uncomfortable because this was going to be a marathon and not a sprint.”
To do everything unassisted from land to ocean, it took him eight months to train and plan out the logistics for his trip. He would carefully pack two weeks worth of essential gear with him at all times (water, food clothes, etc.), he waterproofed the equipment the best he could, and up to fifty pounds, would carry those belongings with him on his SUP.
In areas he knew people, he would send care packages out there for himself and they would meet up with him to replenish the goods. Over the course of his trip, Schmidt slept in conditions ranging from cheap coastal motels to sea caves. To navigate, he used a Magellan Explorist device and the Navionics system to receive information about submerged rocks, reef, and extreme conditions from people who had encountered it and uploaded it on to the program.
“I spent a lot of time determining what I could live with and what I couldn’t live without. You’d actually be surprised how little a person needs to survive,” Schmidt said.
An Ocean of Yin and Yang
While he embarked on this excursion alone without assistance, Schmidt wasn’t exactly solo the whole time. He was entrusted with a small amount of ashes of a dear friend’s husband and spread them at the end of his journey. He also made a few marine friends along the way.
So was the adventure fun for this this Top Expedition winner of the 2014 SUP Awards?
“I had the most amazing experience and the most miserable experience all at the same time,” Schmidt said. “Every extreme high I had was immediately preceded by the worst low you could have. I had never been in better shape but more beat up at the same. I had never been more happy by being so miserable at the same time. I had never been more motivated while being more broken down. It was every emotion I could have had over and over again – all for my passion of paddleboarding. It was exhilarating.”
Schmidt’s hope is that through the journey of his battle with depression and the vehicle that he chooses to drive, which is a paddleboard, he can shine a light on depression and post-traumatic stress as an internal injury. He wants to create an understanding that not all wounds show on the outside. He wants to encourage individuals who are suffering in those shadows to seek light and help.
“Depression doesn’t have to be a demon that you fear; you can find the tools to turn it into a teacher whose wisdom you seek,” Schmidt said.
To support Will Schmidt’s platform, become a sponsor, or just find out more information, visit Are You Inspired Yet?
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