Dan Dinsmore and Matt Kress of Bainbridge at Fay Beach after completing the first leg (Kate Hough/Contributed photo)

Dan Dinsmore and Matt Kress of Bainbridge at Fay Beach after completing the first leg (Kate Hough/Contributed photo)

Veterans paddle to raise awareness for mental health

Armed Forces veterans know what it means to face a challenge head-on. They know what it means to push themselves to their physical limits. And, unfortunately, they are also aware of the difficulties many veterans face after leaving the service.

A group of local veterans have set out to help make post-service life a little better for their brothers-in-arms.

Last month, a group of seven Marines and one Navy and Coast Guard pilot, including three who reside on Bainbridge Island, took to the sea to complete the first 50K Warrior Paddle around the island. Their goal is to turn the endurance test into an annual event that will raise awareness for veteran mental health.

But before putting on a large public event, the group decided to first try it themselves.

“It was, ‘Let’s go out and do this ourselves,’ ” said organizer Ryan Hough, one of the BI residents in the crew. “Let’s do this first, and then let’s create an annual paddle Bainbridge event to create awareness for veteran mental health, and to have that great camaraderie and great experience.”

The paddle took eight-and-a-half hours as the men entered the water from Crystal Springs at about 5:30 a.m. It was a race against time to get through Agate Pass before the tides turned against them, but they made it and reached Fay Beach around 9:15 a.m. The adventure was (relatively) easier from there as the tide pushed them forward, getting past Pritchard Park and Eagle Harbor. Rich Passage was another tricky section, but they made it through and finished at about 2 p.m.

Working together to navigate tough seas reminded the veterans of how they used to band together in tough times to serve their objective, providing camaraderie they missed.

“It’s a great group,” said Dan Dinsmore, a Seattle native who recently moved to BI. “[It’s] a bunch of crazy guys willing to throw down and do something really hard so that other people’s lives might be a little easier, which is how they’re built.”

Hough described the journey as an “epic adventure,” on water as clear as glass. The group encountered plenty of wildlife, such as seals, dolphins and bald eagles. The early calm contrasted with the nerve-wracking trip through Agate Pass.

“We all started paddling as hard as we could,” Hough said. “At full tide we’d be going backwards.”

The Marines had a former gunny in their safety boat in case someone needed to be pulled out and had an experienced paddler in their group, BI resident Matt Kress, who has spent years in the waters of the Puget Sound and has paddled up and down the West Coast.

“We were really strategic about timing the tides,” Kress said. “We know you do not want to mess with being on the wrong side of the tides in certain places on the island.”

Serving a purpose

The U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to treating mental health properly, especially among its veterans, as some continue to struggle once they leave their military service. Out of the 46,510 adults who died from suicide in 2018, 6,435 were veterans, according to a report from Veterans Affairs. In 2017, veterans constituted 14.1% of all adult suicides despite representing 8.1% of the population.

Although there are financial barriers to getting help, the largest obstacle remains the shame. “There’s still way too much stigma about seeking mental health support,” Kress said. “It’s just who we are as a society.”

Dinsmore noted that the situation has gotten better for younger veterans leaving the service in the past 10 to 15 years as more organizations have popped up as a response to the issue. Dinsmore said there were a number of groups that reached out to him once he left the Marines to offer help, whether it was with a career transition or to offer mental health services.

This local group believes it must continue to answer the call to help their brethren.

“Anytime a group of veterans can raise awareness for mental health, it’s kind of an easy answer,” Dinsmore said. “Twenty-seven miles of paddling seems like a long way until you’re helping out your buddies, then it’s a no-brainer.”

Warrior Paddle is the perfect event, as Kress noted a generational shift that has seen younger veterans pursue social groups revolving around an active lifestyle that provides a similar level of camaraderie experienced in the Armed Forces.

Hough said he had a vision of creating an event that was a long enough distance to be intimidating, but also capture the imagination and create something folks will want to accomplish. Future Warrior Paddles will also have various points at which people of all fitness levels and abilities can pull out, in order to open it up to as many participants as possible.

“If you get a bunch of people willing to go out there and do that and not of the mindset we were, you need to make it a safe event,” Hough said.

The group of eight who took on the first Bainbridge 50K Warrior Paddle. From left to right: Jimmy Lee Burruss, US Navy & Coast Guard pilot from Spokane; Matt Kress, a USMC Logistics Officer from Bainbridge; Matt Sivright, USMC Infantry from Seattle; Eric Longo, USMC Infantry, from Silverdale; Dan Dinsmore, USMC Motor Transportation, from Bainbridge; Chad Rounds, USMC Harrier Pilot, FBI, from Camas; Ryan Hough, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Bainbridge; and Matt McLaughlin, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Hood River. (Contributed photo)

The group of eight who took on the first Bainbridge 50K Warrior Paddle. From left to right: Jimmy Lee Burruss, US Navy & Coast Guard pilot from Spokane; Matt Kress, a USMC Logistics Officer from Bainbridge; Matt Sivright, USMC Infantry from Seattle; Eric Longo, USMC Infantry, from Silverdale; Dan Dinsmore, USMC Motor Transportation, from Bainbridge; Chad Rounds, USMC Harrier Pilot, FBI, from Camas; Ryan Hough, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Bainbridge; and Matt McLaughlin, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Hood River. (Contributed photo)

The group of eight who took on the first Bainbridge 50K Warrior Paddle. From left to right: Jimmy Lee Burruss, US Navy & Coast Guard pilot from Spokane; Matt Kress, a USMC Logistics Officer from Bainbridge; Matt Sivright, USMC Infantry from Seattle; Eric Longo, USMC Infantry, from Silverdale; Dan Dinsmore, USMC Motor Transportation, from Bainbridge; Chad Rounds, USMC Harrier Pilot, FBI, from Camas; Ryan Hough, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Bainbridge; and Matt McLaughlin, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Hood River. (Contributed photo)

The group of eight who took on the first Bainbridge 50K Warrior Paddle. From left to right: Jimmy Lee Burruss, US Navy & Coast Guard pilot from Spokane; Matt Kress, a USMC Logistics Officer from Bainbridge; Matt Sivright, USMC Infantry from Seattle; Eric Longo, USMC Infantry, from Silverdale; Dan Dinsmore, USMC Motor Transportation, from Bainbridge; Chad Rounds, USMC Harrier Pilot, FBI, from Camas; Ryan Hough, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Bainbridge; and Matt McLaughlin, USMC Harrier Pilot, from Hood River. (Contributed photo)

More in Sports

Bainbridge middle blocker Holley McFadden gets in the way of a Kingston shot during her team’s victory over the Bucs on Thursday. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
Bainbridge beats Kingston for 3rd consecutive win

Three games, nine sets, all of them have gone Bainbridge’s way. The… Continue reading

Sky Henderson (29) rushes to congratulate teammate Avery Pujolar after scoring her third goal of the game in a 5-0 win over Bremerton. (Mark Krulish/Bainbridge Island Review photos)
Pujolar’s hat trick sparks Bainbridge to victory

Bainbridge sophomore Avery Pujolar was flying down the left sideline at full… Continue reading

South Kitsap junior Anna Harvey drops a shot past the Kingston defense. The Wolves defeated the Bucs three sets to two Monday night. (Mark Krulish/North Kitsap Herald photos)
SK comes back to defeat Kingston in 5 sets

South Kitsap was trailing two sets to one late in the fourth… Continue reading

Josh Smith, along with partner Drake Jones, are the top doubles pair for North Kitsap and led the way in Thursday’s match against Bainbridge, winning 6-0, 6-1. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
BI wins singles, NK doubles and match

North Kitsap’s seniors are hoping to make the most of their final… Continue reading

Kingston lineman Hugo Hall goes head-to-head with a teammate during a blocking drill at a preseason practice. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
Coach finally has time to teach new system

It’s fair to say that few football coaches had a tougher first… Continue reading

Bainbridge running back Matt LeDorze crashes through the line in the Spartans’ opening night game against Garfield. (Mark Krulish/Bainbridge Island Review)
Young Bainbridge blown out in opener

It was a baptismal by fire for Bainbridge’s young gridders on opening… Continue reading

Sophomore running back/wide receiver Jorden Lee should be one of the team’s featured ball carriers this year. (Mark Krulish | Kitsap News Group)
Young Wolves football team is hungry for a full season

PORT ORCHARD — South Kitsap’s football team will feature a mostly “new-look”… Continue reading

Hailey Deese leads the rush upfield during last year’s match against Bremerton. South Kitsap has a number of returners from last spring’s varsity team. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
Sports previews: South Kitsap

Girls Soccer 2021 record: 8-2-1 Head coach: Hailey Parker Key players: Rosamaria… Continue reading

Colton Bower was a 2A All-State selection in the spring and he leads an experienced North Kitsap team this season. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
All-State QB leads N. Kitsap this fall

Editor’s note: A preview on Kingston football will run in next week’s… Continue reading

Most Read