There are a lot of ways to help raise money for the Semper Fi Fund that we’ve posted to our fundraising page—but none of them involve kayaking 2,552 miles from one end of the Mississippi River to the other.
That’s exactly what Marine Corporal Nic Doucette is planning to do beginning May 31, 2014.
The inspiration for the two-and-a-half-month journey lies with two Marines the Milwaukee native met while preparing for a 2010 deployment to southern Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Nic, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2007, was a member of 1st Tank Battalion and was to be part of a unit clearing roads of improvised explosive devices.
“I met Justin [Cpl. Justin Gaertner] and Gabriel [Sgt. Gabriel Martinez] during our workup for deployment,” Nic said. “They were both members of the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion that we were being attached to and were in charge of teaching us everything we needed to know to be successful on our upcoming deployment.”
“Justin and Gabe both lost their legs on November 26, 2010, when they stepped on IED pressure plates,” Nic continued. “They returned home and were walking on their new legs at a much faster pace than expected. Since making their recoveries, they've both been busy rock climbing, skiing, biking and hand cycling.”
“Their positive outlook on surviving such a traumatic experience has inspired me to continue helping our community of injured service members,” Nic said. “When I asked them which organization I should raise funds for, they both directed me to the Semper Fi Fund. My goal is to raise as much awareness as I can about how Semper Fi Fund benefits our wounded veterans and their families.”
Nic completed his active service in November 2011 and was originally going to be traveling the Mississippi in a canoe, but he changed his mind while doing research for the trip.
“Kayaks are generally a little bit quicker in the water,” he explained, “and sometimes lighter in weight, but you’re limited in the amount of gear you can take. After weeks of trying to find the right kayak, I finally found the Native Watercraft Ultimate 12. Its design is nice because it has an exposed top similar to a canoe, but has the option of sliding on some waterproof spray skirts. This offers me far more room for gear and is much more stable than an average kayak. Due to the special patented designed hull, I’m capable of standing up and stretching out whenever I'd like.”
As important as the kayak, of course, is the paddle Nic will be using.
“Finding the right kayak paddle was a big experiment,” he said. “The original one I was training with was far too heavy to paddle with all day. I now own a very lightweight carbon fiber paddle that feels like a feather in my hands and will make full day paddling a lot easier.”
Nic will be making the trip with fellow Marine Gabe Vasquez. The two served together in 1st Tank Battalion.
“Gabe will be completing his eight-year enlistment only a few weeks before our departure date,” Nic said. “He contacted me in December after I posted my fundraiser on social media. He knew I was making the trip, but he didn't realize that it was for the Semper Fi Fund. That alone was inspiration enough because he has always had an interest in assisting injured service members after he completed his enlistment.”
As the trips gets underway, Nic and Gabe plan to wake up before sunrise each morning, eat breakfast, pack gear and start paddling.
“It's important for us to get on the water early to avoid any headwinds,” Nic explained. “The water seems to be the most calm early in the morning, so we would like to get as many miles complete in these good weather conditions.”
All sorts of Marines have done all sorts of fundraisers for the Semper Fi Fund: Rob Jones, for one example, is a double amputee riding a bicycle cross-country. Bill Conner just ran a marathon in Antarctica. People who undertake these sorts of extreme fundraising activities often talk of them being life-changing experiences.
“I can only assume what some of those changes might be,” Nic says. “For me, the trip was important to just be able to slow down and see the world from a different angle and at a different speed. Life is so fast in the modern world and not everyone gets the opportunity to see the world the way we will be able to.”
“The other thing for me is meeting all the new people down the river. I hope to feel more comfortable talking to complete strangers that I have no real connection with. Also, being able to reflect on everything I've done in the past and hope to do in the future. Having countless hours on the water to think will be quite a shock to the system, but I think it will be ultimately beneficial to the goals I want to achieve in my life.”