“In the winter of 2013 I started, with my younger brother Sean, the nonprofit called SailAhead. I was 16 years old at the time. This year I will be 20, and this is how 2016 was such a moving year for me.
Before I begin, let me tell you a bit more about SailAhead. First off, what do we do really? We introduce the therapeutic powers sailing has to offer whether it is cruising calmly and happily, or racing like intense maniacs in short or long distance races. So yea, SailAhead has been basically consuming all of my free time. Don’t get the wrong idea, we don’t just put wounded veterans on our boats and take them for a joy ride, we actually teach them how to navigate and sail with the goal that they teach other fellow veterans.
Being a civilian that I am, I can only connect so much with veterans when we sail. Our goal is to teach veterans to sail sufficiently so they can in turn, teach other fellow veterans to sail. Of course, because of the veteran-to-veteran contact instead of civilian-to-veteran contact, the bond they create will be infinitely more profound than if it was just me, because they can relate more with each other’s struggles and experiences. The bond veterans create through sailing is a large factor that contributes to the therapy we try to provide.
Aside from PTSD awareness and networking events we organize with our partners, SailAhead has five core teams/programs that work in conjunction and are designed to get veterans of different interests, needs, and abilities, involved on the water. So, after countless hours behind the computer, on the phone or on the water, I am proud to say that we are responsible for taking 1,000 veterans to the water in just 3 years! If you are interested in what we do more specifically then I invite you to visit our website at www.sailahead.org for more info on our programs and events.
Finally, I will tell you why 2016 was such an immensely moving year for SailAhead and myself. Upon reading the rest of this article, I wish you feel just as motivated as I did after realizing my new reality. It shook me, it motivated me, and I am pushing myself forward in positive ways for the sake of our veterans and humanity.
So, like I said, 2016 was a very moving year for SailAhead because 219 new members, identified as our mates, have joined our ranks. These 219 mates have at least two things in common. One, they were once soldiers, and two; they each took their own lives.
According to the VA, at least 22 veterans commit suicide daily in the United States. The “22 a day” reality is what inspired Sean and I to create SailAhead, so with the permission of the families of these 219 veterans, we had the nametags of these veterans duplicated. These name tags come along with us when we sail with PTSD suffering veterans and we are honored to carry the spirits of our 219 mates every time we set sail. Because of the nametags, I designed a “219” flag which has become our banner. When this flag is up, you know our mates are on board sailing with us.
At least 22 a day means 220 veterans every ten days, which is the size of a USMC size company lost. So why 219 as opposed to 220? This is because the one missing in that equation is the life saved. The lives SailAhead are trying to save. The flagship of our fleet flies a white flag with the number 219 in black in the center. In addition to the 219 mates that it represents, the number 2 on the flag symbolizes how SailAhead was started by two brothers, and the 19 represents the age of Michael Blanco, a Long Island local US marine who was only 19 when he took his life on Monday, February 15th, 2010. The black of the numbers and white of the flag symbolize the fight SailAhead is in, like in a storm at sea, when the water is turned white by the frothy swells as they rise and crash, and the sky’s turned black by the ominous menacing clouds overhead, trying their best to sink and derail those who sail beneath them. But we don’t sink. And we continue to sail, sail ahead…
The camaraderie and intensity that racing and sailing has to offer is why in 2017, SailAhead appointed a Green Beret Special Forces Veteran in charge of the SailAhead (offshore) racing team, and is why we are currently looking for our own race boat. If you know anyone looking to sell or possibly donating a J/105 racer/cruiser (or any boat like a J/105), please send them our way or contact us! You can contact us through our website. Thank you for reading!” Learn more about SailAhead here