Paddling for a cause
Vet raises funds, awareness for PTSD, suicide
— Retired Army Special Operations Delta Force Operator and U.S. Army Ranger Josh Collins picked an unique way to get to town on Sunday: by paddleboard.
This mode of transportation was all part of the first leg of Collins’ world journey on a paddleboard to raise awareness and
money for traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic syndrome disorder and veteran suicide.
As he came through the canal standing up on a paddleboard at about 5:30 p.m., his wife Tonia met him in her escort camper. Both received a warm welcome from the crowd of people who had gathered to greet them for their overnight stay in town.
“This is an absolutely amazing greeting on this Fourth of July weekend,” Collins said as he
addressed a group of locals who had gathered on the boardwalk deck behind town hall to await his arrival. “Its fitting that this is Independence Day weekend and I’m fighting for independence from all these prescription drugs that are given to those suffering from a traumatic brain injury.”
Collins, 47, who retired in 2008 after serving 20 years in the U.S. Army, sustained a total of seven brain injuries while in the military and two more after he got out.
“He is better now, but we have to be very careful he doesn’t get any more, which could be very harmful,” his wife Tonia said.
Many of his previous injuries were blast-related while serving, she said.
Collins had been deployed several times to Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia while serving his country and ended up with multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), driving him into a personal struggle with prescription pills and self-medication with alcohol, he explained.
He credits the Task Force Dagger Foundation with helping save his life by providing for his family while he was hospitalized for long-term TBI therapy. He was able to use natural sources and treatment options that allowed him to stop his reliance on a cocktail of prescription drugs.
“This is very, very real,” Collins said. “There are 7,000 guys who need help now, and a lot of them are Vietnam vets.”
“I’m most worried about the guys who are still serving,” Collins added, pointing out that 22 veterans a day commit suicide.
After Collins left the hospital, his
wife bought him a stand-up paddleboard for recreational therapy, which he said helped him heal.
“Everything holds still when I’m on the water,” he said.
Having nearly lost it all, Collins is now determined to help other veterans trying to survive after combat. That’s why he launched this project dubbed “Veteran Voyage 360” to travel by paddleboard around the world to raise $22 million for Task Force Dagger Foundation.
His journey began March 5 in Corpus Christi, Texas, and will end in New York City on July 23. That’s just the first leg of the voyage, the remainder is yet to be announced. He’s calling the East Coast portion of the trip “Operation Phoenix.”
Many visitors who chatted with Tonia Collins on the dock as she waited for her husband’s arrival Sunday about 5:30 p.m. pulled cash out of their wallets and hand-
ed it to her. The foundation also has an online raffle at www.taskforcedagger.org for a Bote paddleboard with the purchase of a $20 ticket that goes to the foundation.
Visitors on both sides of Chesapeake City watched Collins paddle under the Chesapeake City Bridge with the guidance of his crew in accompanying boats. They cheered, waved flags and took pictures and video with their phones.
Jake Cooper, 12, and his brother Matt, 10, welcomed Collins to town by presenting him with a gift basket and a $200 check from the town. The Cooper boys’ mother, Mary, works as a billing clerk in town hall.
“We’re proud Americans,” said Matt Cooper of their motivation to participate in the ceremony.
Valerie Walls presented Collins with a check from the Chesapeake City VFW post and retired U.S. Navy Capt. Ed Schweizer and his wife, Sue, hosted the couple at
Doc Smithers Bed & Breakfast, which they own and operate on Bohemia Avenue. Chesapeake Inn hosted the couple and their team for dinner.
Tonia Collins said her husband is enjoying the experience, although it has its bumps.
“Our schedule has probably gone awry about 90 percent of the time, but we’ve learned to go with it and we are actually ahead of schedule right now,” she said.
Weather is the great unknown and biggest reason that plans have to change at the last minute, she explained, noting that when they left Texas they encountered floods, rain and wind.
“He lost the finger nails on his left hand during the first week because of the pressure on his hands. But, he just doesn’t quit. He’s an inspiration,” Tonia said.
The couple lives in Merritt Island, Fla., near Cocoa Beach and they have four grown children.
A group of well-wishers welcome veteran Josh Collins as he paddleboards in the C&D Canal toward the yacht basin Sunday.