Fight OAR Die.
No, that’s not a typo. It’s the slogan for a group of military veterans who next week will begin a weeks-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean… in a rowboat.
Powell resident Carl Christensen is part of a four-man team of former military servicemen who will take off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands next month in their “Woobie” to raise awareness and support for the mental and physical health of U.S. veterans.
The team will take part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It’s a symbol of the hardships faced by veterans, and the steps that can be taken to overcome them.
Christensen is a 2001 Cody High School graduate who attended the Naval Academy, then served as a submarine officer and an instructor until his service was over in 2014. He said he watched last year’s team, which boasted members from both Powell and Cody, and was inspired to join the movement to support fellow veterans in their struggles with both mental and physical health post-service.
But the task he’s facing is no small feat, either.
“Last year’s team did it in 54 days. 40 days is the average, the world record is 33 days,” he said. “We do have 60 days’ worth of food on board.”
Christensen’s team represents more than just the Navy, however. Two Marines will be in his boat – one from San Antonio, Texas, and one from Denver, Colorado – and an Army veteran from Juneau, Alaska will round out the crew. It’s the first time for each of them.
“The goal is to put four new veterans on the team each year,” he said. “We’re showing other veterans that they can row their own ocean, overcome their challenges.”
He said the Fight OAR Die team has one mission – they want veterans to stop taking their own lives, and start living them instead.
Training is a must for a physical feat such as this. Christensen said he’s been staying in shape as a member of the Park County Search and Rescue volunteer crew. In addition, his wife, who is a personal trainer, purchased a rowing machine to help him train specifically for this journey.
In August, Christensen said the team did a month of training on an actual rowboat in Mobile, Alabama. There, the city’s mayor presented team members with a key to the city for their efforts in raising awareness of post-traumatic stress and post-combat hardship, as well as raising funds for treatment and research.
Part of the team’s mission is to raise support for other organizations that assist veterans, according to Christensen. The Sturm Center at the University of Denver and the Marcus Institute for Brain Health in Aurora, Colorado, are both working on ways to help veterans adapt and heal after their combat missions.
“We are actually research subjects,” Christensen said. “They’ll follow us for a year.”
In fact, he says the Sturm Center is now offering students the opportunity to follow a new specialized path – professional military psychologist – specifically to help veterans.
Christensen pointed out that people who want to support their team’s mission financially can donate to the Sturm Center and the Marcus Institute to further their efforts.
Of the upcoming challenge, Christensen said it’s important to him to continue to serve his brothers and sisters in arms. With 60,000 veterans dying by suicide over the last decade, he said he is proud to be a part of a group that is working to raise awareness – and funds – to help support those who can perhaps end that trend.
“We’re trying to turn the tide,” he said.