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Support boat pilot Ron Abel, Nate Dub & Shane Perrin celebrate finishing the 100 mile paddle. Credit: Proudly We Stand

Veteran Paddles 100 Miles for PTSD Awareness

It's a sad fact that 22 veterans of the US military commit suicide every day. Nate Dub could've been one of the unlucky ones, had it not been for a friend, a dog, and a standup paddleboard.

Three years ago, Nate (whose last name has to be obscured because of his service record), was drifting. A U.S. Army veteran with multiple tours in the Middle East, he had been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since leaving the military. This manifested itself as a crippling depression, in which worries, fears and doubts threatened to consume the brave former soldier as he struggled to come to terms with what he'd seen on the battlefield.

To make matters worse, his beloved dog, Alce, went missing in May 2014. His friend Debbie Klapperich came to help Nate look for Alce, but as he became increasingly distressed, Debbie recognized his need for a break and offered to take him out on one of her standup paddleboards. Nate wasn't sure – it was a chilly, gray day and the water felt freezing when he dipped a hesitant toe in, but finally he relented and paddled out onto Lake Michigan on his knees. Within 10 minutes he was standing, and everything else seemed to melt away.

"That first time on a SUP, I was so focused on reacting to the water and not falling in that all my worries just disappeared," Nate said. "Before I knew it two hours had past – the most serene two hours I'd spent in years."

In the weeks that followed, Nate and Debbie went back out on the water time and time again. Nate wrote an email to Tahoe SUP praising their board design and one day, a knock at the door signaled an unexpected and most welcome gift: a free board. While he still enjoyed paddling with friends, Nate also soaked up the solace of solo paddling, and soon began entering races.

"I'm a pretty intense guy and anything I do, I'm going to hit hard," Nate said. "After I started telling other competitors my story I realized that I could not only use SUP as a personal release, but also to raise awareness about the thousands who struggle with PTSD."

This thought crystallized when Nate was notified in October 2014 that a longtime brother in arms, who also suffered from PTSD, had taken his own life. Nate was scheduled to participate in the Chattajack 31 SUP race, but instead flew to the West Coast to be with his friend's family. In the sad days that followed he decided to do something to raise awareness about his condition. That something was a 100-mile paddle from Chicago to Milwaukee.

A mutual friend introduced Nate to SUP distance pioneer Shane Perrin and Nate sought his advice. Rather than just sending back training tips, Perrin said "I want to do the expedition with you." And so, earlier this year the two set out from Chicago on a damp Friday evening, with a support boat piloted by Nate's fellow veterans Ron Abel and Mike Eurche in tow.

From the start, the weather was against them. The fog started building and just after midnight, the air temperature plummeted from the mid 70s to the 40s with the water temperature not far behind. Soon, Nate and Perrin couldn't see the water below them or much of anything ahead. After taking an hour to find the shore, the duo eventually came into Waukegan Harbor for a much needed rest.

The paddlers put back into the water at 4:39 a.m. on Sunday morning and immediately rued their timing. The fog closed back in and a boat coming into the harbor blind almost hit their boards. However, with six hours to go, the fog finally cleared and the sun came out. With a prevailing wind now at their backs, Nate and Perrin upped their pace and pushed on to the finish line.

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Nate and Shane pull into Horny Goat, Milwaukee at the end of their journey. Photo: Proudly We Stand

Before the race, donors had contributed almost $5,900 to Proudly We Stand, Nate's nonprofit that supports Nation of Patriots and Companions for Heroes. Over the expedition weekend, givers chipped in another $1,100 and the campaign will continue taking donations through the end of the year. But as important as fundraising is to Nate, the expedition means far more.

"SUP helped save me and while it may not be the answer for every veteran, I want everyone to find their own standup paddling," Nate said. "Some of my friends have paid the ultimate price for their country, so giving a part of myself to help other veterans and get the word out about PTSD is the least I can do."