They started arriving in North Carolina on Thursday, August 4, and by Friday, Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (SDIA) had 70+ veterans, first responders and supporters gathered to participate in their Western North Carolina Chapter’s Adventure Weekend. This annual adventure culminates in running the Asheville Spartan Super, and for 30 of the participants, the race would be a test of how far they had come since being injured in combat or the line of duty – and a reminder that no matter the obstacle, they can overcome it all with their brothers and sisters by their side.
The Sheep Dogs started their weekend with a hearty breakfast at the Dixie Diner in Hendersonville on Friday morning, followed by white water rafting on the Nantahala River.
James Hurn, Deputy Sheriff with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, summed up the experience the best. “I thought it was going to be a typical rafting trip,” he said. “But I quickly learned that when you throw a bunch of combat veteran Marines in a few rafts, it quickly turns into one giant amphibious war as you hurtle through the rapids.”
Those who did not ride the rapids explored the scenic river valley and surrounding area, or relaxed in their serene surroundings. After dinner and an evening of camaraderie and fun, all turned in to get rested and ready for Saturday’s race.
As the group gathered for the Spartan Super the next morning, the excitement was palpable. Many had never run a Spartan race before, but all were up for the challenge. The sponsored Sheep Dogs were teamed up with one or two fellow Sheep Dogs to assist as needed with obstacles and to provide encouragement throughout the race. What the assisting Sheep Dogs found, however, was that they were the ones encouraged and inspired.
Deputy Hurn was paired up with Charles Neill, a fellow law enforcement officer who had been shot in the head while pursuing a suspect in a high speed chase. Neill’s rehabilitation included relearning how to walk and talk; his exceptional progress is due in part to his willingness to push himself to – and past – his limitations. This determination impacted Hurn.
“[The race] pushed me to my limits,” Hurn said, “but honestly, the best part of the race and that day was watching [the wounded Sheep Dogs] push themselves. Getting to know Neill made me grateful for where I’m at and showed me that I have no room to complain and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I was a part of that race to help these wounded men and women, but in the end it was they who motivated and encouraged me to continue to push myself harder and excel as a Law Enforcement Officer.”
Navy and Army National Guard veteran, Matt Strawbridge, participated in the race, too. “The race was awesome and a hard challenge to get through,” Strawbridge said. “I met some great guys and we had great team work overcoming the obstacle course…we overcame and adapted.”
For sponsored U.S. Navy veteran and firefighter, Jamie Smith, the grueling 9-mile course and 25 obstacles provided the challenge he was looking for. After being injured as a firefighter, Smith was told he would never walk again and was confined to a wheel chair for two years. He worked hard to get back on his feet, and the Super pushed him to his limits. It also gave him much needed closure for the loss of friends, fellow veterans and firefighters. “I had their names on my shirt, and I carried them with me through [the Spartan race]. They will forever be in my heart and mind, but I was able to get through some bad things on that day. I found a way to heal inside and out.”
SDIA’s mission to engage, assist and empower our nation’s Sheep Dogs is achieved through all our programs, but these Outdoor Adventures make an enormous impact. Surrounding those wounded in combat or the line of duty with fellow Sheep Dogs and reengaging them in life are the highest priorities of SDIA’s Outdoor Adventures. These adventures remind them that no matter their injuries, they are still Sheep Dogs who can make a difference in their communities and for their country.
For more information on SDIA, our programs, and how you can get involved, visit our website at www.SheepDogIA.org.