Veterans' trans-Atlantic rowing team gets big send-off from Alabama
By LAWRENCE SPECKER | Alabama Media Group, Birmingham | Published: August 28, 2019
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — For the second year in a row, Mobile Bay has served as the training ground for a crew of military veterans preparing to row across the Atlantic. On Wednesday, the city showed how enthusiastic it was about the mission.
If there was a key to Mobile Bay, Team Fight Oar Die probably would have gotten that. Instead Mayor Sandy Stimpson handed out keys to the city, each with a large fishing bobber attached, and read a proclamation proclaiming it Team Fight Oar Die Day. A local restaurateur added a five-figure donation to the cause.
Bryant Knight, an Army veteran from Mobile who rowed on last year’s team and now serves as board president of the nonprofit behind the team, kept the focus firmly on the team’s mission of helping veterans. As he adapted to civilian life after a 22-year military career, he said, he became more and more by distressed by the issues facing his fellow veterans. Suicide was epidemic, and post-traumatic stress was a blight on the lives of thousands of men and women who’d served.
He and the three other members of the first Fight Oar Die team came together to raise awareness and funds by doing "the weirdest thing we could come up with," he said. That was the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a 3,000-mile rowboat race from the Canary Islands to Antigua & Barbuda.
Because Knight had family and friends in Mobile, Buccaneer Yacht Club became home base in summer 2018 as the team got some open-water experience aboard its spaceship-like boat, the Woobie. In February 2019 they finished the Challenge in 54 days, becoming the first team composed entirely of U.S. military veterans to do so.
Knight said that while the accomplishment raised money for programs working to help veterans, it also was intended to directly inspire those struggling with readjustment to civilian life. “What we are trying to say is … every person has their own ocean to cross,” he said.
For 2019, four new veterans will man the oars: Carl Christensen, Luke Holton, John Fannin and Evan Stratton. Knight said it was a no-brainer to bring them to Mobile for three weeks of intensive training.
"There's no better training ground … than to start out in Mobile Bay," he said. The preparations can be hard, he said, but "at the same time you're going to eat a lot of great food."
"People are hearing about Team Fight Oar Die, and they're hearing about the city of Mobile" and its graciousness, he said.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Stimpson read two proclamations: One honoring the team, and one expressing appreciation for Knight’s service to his country. Restaurateur “Panini Pete” Blohme presented the team with a check for $13,000. Half that amount had been raised at a pancake breakfast at Ed’s Seafood Shed, he said, and his PR Foundation had matched it, he said.
©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
Visit Alabama Media Group, Birmingham at www.al.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.