Paddling a rowboat across the Atlantic Ocean might seem like an impossible task to some, but to Billy Cimino, Paul Lore, Cam Hansen and A.M. “Hupp” Huppman (aka team Foar From Home), it’s the perfect vehicle to bring awareness to their message: 22 military veterans die by suicide every day, and resources need to be more accessible to those struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues.
The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge is a 3,000 mile race wherein 30-40 teams or solo racers paddle unsupported from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean. The world record time is 29 days, but most teams finish in around 50 days, which is Foar From Home’s goal. Each team must pack everything they need to survive and navigate during the race, leaving minimal room for comfort. The race has been described as one of the hardest mental challenges on Earth.
Cimino, Lore, Hansen and Huppman’s collective journey started years ago when the Amelia Island residents met at a live music performance Hupp put on at their favorite watering hole, Pajama Dave’s Beer Garden.
“Veterans tend to seek each other out when you’re in a crowd of people, whether it’s through your T-shirt or your hat,” Lore said. The four men hail from varying military backgrounds, yet found common ground in their interest in mental health issues, among other things like their love for the ocean and the healing energy it provides. Inspired by a crew of veterans from Colorado who raced in 2018, they decided to use the race as a tool to bring mental health issues of veterans into the spotlight.
Although this movement started with four, it’s become an entire community. Or as the team likes to say, “It takes an island to cross an ocean.”
The authenticity of this crew has made it able for them to connect with the community. They have described the community’s response as one of the greatest grassroots movements they’ve ever heard of. What started as a small group of donors from Amelia Island has grown to donors from all over the nation. Foar From Home have found themselves as a leading light for veterans everywhere.
The impact of post-military service mental health issues is not as uncommon as one would hope. Communities carry the weight of lost veterans, but it is the family members and fellow service members who carry the heaviest burden. When veterans hear about one of their own dying by suicide, regardless of whether they personally knew them or not, they grieve as they were all part of that big unit serving the country.
“I recently read something that talked about when you go in the military, one of the first things you [have to] do is be willing to give up your life for something greater than yourself,” Lore explained. “It’s considered honorable to give up your life for your country, and …. [some veterans] still hold that value of, well, if I give up my life, I’m doing it for something important or something honorable, But there has to be a switch that turns off when you walk away. That’s not the path.”
A lot of mental health issues experienced by service members stem from the military’s reductive ideology on how soldiers should be: hardened and strong. This can be helpful in combat but can cause problems once service members return home.
“The military grinds into you that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and nobody wants to be that weak link. So to admit that you have some sort of chink in the armor is admitting that you’re the who could potentially be that weak link,” Lore explained. “I think that’s something that every branch is taught. And you just rub dirt [on it] and keep
moving on, right? There’s no pain, there’s no time for that. You just keep pressing on.”
This team is working to change the stigma of mental illness and show there is strength in showing vulnerability, and the community has responded in a big way: Foar From Home has already raised nearly $600,000 to create scholarship endowments for veterans looking to further their education or change vocations because sometimes, Lore said, “a career change in life can make all the difference.”
They also plan to use funds to support local resources for veterans who are struggling, like Firewatch, a phone hotline that connects callers with veterans trained for intervention, and K9s for Warriors, which pairs at-risk veterans with service animals rescued from kill shelters. K9s for Warriors has a 99% success rate through 10 years of the program but currently has a waitlist filled for the next few years. The team is looking to help expand the kennel facility, increasing availability of dogs to those in need.
While on the water, the team will run on a 24-hour cycle: two men row for two hours, then spend two hours sleeping, relaxing and preparing for their next shift while the other two men row. The boats are incredibly compact, and each team member has about 5 feet of space for sleeping and essentials. The crew has packed enough food for each person to consume around 5,000 calories a day even though they are expecting to burn about 9,000. They explained that this paddle is a small sacrifice for the cause. Their mental fortitude can easily be accredited to their military experience.
Aside from major donors, Foar From Home’s Sponsor a Mile program has been its main source of fundraising. With a donation of $100, supporters can dedicate one mile of the team’s paddle to a person or cause they want to recognize. Donors are notified directly by the land crew when the mile is crossed.
To learn more about the team, the race and ways to support the movement, visit foarfromhome.com. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255.