Quantcast

Veterans kayak down the Hudson on mission to share life lessons

By DANIEL AXELROD | The Times Herald-Record | Published: September 17, 2020

KINGSTON, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — This month, three veterans from the new Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration are kayaking, and hiking where they can’t use their boats, from the Hudson’s headwaters in the Adirondacks to the river’s Manhattan mouth.

The fledgling center, in the Town of Ulster, is raising donations for its already long list of programs — from financial literacy classes to a therapeutic woodworking and kayak building — to help locals adjust to life after military service.

They're also raising awareness about suicide and homelessness among veterans, which the center's programs hope to prevent. An average of 20 veterans take their own lives each day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

<element>

 

And New York’s veterans commit suicide at much higher rates or 66 percent more frequently than ordinary Empire State residents (17.5 per 100,000 versus 10.5 per 100,000), a 2020 New York State Health Foundation study found.

To begin their journey, on Sept. 5, Matt Russell, 36, of Saugerties, Garrison Benz, 28, of Marbletown, and Kevin Keaveny, 51, of Shandaken, popped a pink inflatable unicorn, above Lake Tear of the Clouds. This is how they honored local veterans who had taken their own lives. 

Why, you ask?

Here, the French-Algerian philosopher-journalist Albert Camus can help. He wrote about the absurdity of life, calling it the fundamental conflict between the meaning, order and purpose people seek and the cruelty and chaos that commonly confront them instead.

Some find hope and cope through faith, whether in religion, relationships, ideologies or philosophies. But one need not find either faith for transcendence and peace or commit suicide in their absence, Camus wrote.

One can survive and thrive – accepting this weird, wonderful, often cruel gift called “life” – by embracing life's absurdity and contradictions, freeing ourselves (with a rebel’s heart) to passionately live life on our terms, Camus wrote. And therein lies the unicorn’s relation to the vets’ journey to North Cove Marina near the Hudson River’s terminus.

The idea was, “Smile, this (expletive) doesn’t have to be so serious,” said Keaveny, the center’s executive director, of his message regarding life. “The biggest thing we’re trying to get out there to struggling vets is to live, live and don’t give in to the demons.”

“You’ve got three idiots running down the river in wooden kayaks they’ve made themselves,” Keaveny said. “There’s no reason you can’t get out there” into the world to escape being sad, mad or hopeless.

The press and local luminaries greeted the veterans, as they stopped at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, on Tuesday.

“It’s important to understand the gravity and tragedy” of life and death, said Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, a West Point graduate and an Iraq War veteran, in a post-event interview. “But the way to ultimately address that is to remember we can all have fun and for each individual to find a sense of joy for living.”

“Whether it’s a hike up a mountain or kayaking, these veterans are leading through their actions to show the joy we can experience living life” day by day, Ryan said.

How to donate

The new Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration, in the Town of Ulster, already runs a long list of programs, including a kayak-building workshop, that seek to help the region's veterans live healthy, happy civilian lives after military service. To donate, visit hvcvr.org/donate or gofundme.com/f/vetsonwater

©2020 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
Visit The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. at www.recordonline.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.