Ok, so we all know that it’s Derby time! That means that probably about 80% of the Islanders are trying to catch the biggest fish, but there are also a lot of people who come from off island to participate in the country’s oldest fishing tournament.
Not familiar with this amazing event? Well, this may just be one of the coolest events of the Derby. Now in its fifth year, American Heroes Saltwater Challenge offers 10 wounded soldiers the chance to come to Martha’s Vineyard to fish in the Derby.
All expenses paid, these heroes come to do some serious fishing, eat some great food, a bunch of great sunsets (they stay at the Beach Plum Inn), and enjoy the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard. And to make it even more special, family members are invited to join the recovering veterans.
They arrive, from various planes, to a crowd and a salute from our firefighters and police officers. This year, there a couple of alumni returning. I mention this because it’s amazing what can happen in a year for one of these veterans.
One of the alumni, Nathan Rimpf, has made remarkable progress in his recovery. His first time using his prosthetic legs was the Saltwater Challenge last year. There was a motivation to be in the Derby chair-free and have better mobility to fish.
When you see him this year, he will be cane free and is about to run his first 10K race. This is one determined man, and I imagine one determined fisherman.
Another alumni, Carla Hockaday, is returning to the Vineyard for the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. She first came back in 2011, and for her, the experience was a turning point with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Fishing, sunsets, food, companionship, and the beauty of the Island were helpful in her healing process. Sometimes, a time in a place like this, is what one really needs.
Yes, I’m talking about The Outpost, An Untold Story of American Valor, the book that CNN reporter Jake Tapper wrote about Outpost Keating, where one of the deadliest battles in Afghanistan happened in 2009.
In this year’s American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, there will be four men from Outpost Keating. Just the fact that these men are alive is a miracle, and the fact that these wounded heroes are coming to fish in our Derby is pretty amazing.
I couldn’t even imagine what these veterans have endured. For some, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other.
One of the veterans, Shane Sherer, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was struck by an RPG, can now walk and talk and feed himself — which was not the case the last time he saw his fellow soldiers. Can you imagine this reunion? And that it’s happening here, on the shores of Martha’s Vineyard.
The American Heroes Saltwater Challenge
This event is the brainchild of then 7-year-old Jack Nixon. He wanted to help wounded veterans, and thought what could be better than fishing in the Martha’s Vineyard.
So, he and his parents, Bob and Sarah Nixon set about trying to make this happen, thus the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. It’s a week filled with special events for these incredibly brave people.
So, the heroes arrive on Sunday afternoon and then head to up to Menemsha. That night, there is a family style dinner for them at the Beach Plum Inn. Then it’s up early to fish for the next three days for boat fishing!
At 7 a.m. the veterans arrive at Squid Row to get ready to get their fish on. Even though it’s the busiest time of year for charter captains, there are a number here that donate their boat and services to the veterans during this week, including Jen Clarke, Buddy Vanderhoop, Scott McDowell, Tom Langman, Jonathan Boyd, and Lev Wlodyka.
These captains know that these heroes are going to have the time of their lives on these boats, and it’s much more than a fishing trip. It’s a healing trip for the soul.
Let’s not forget the joy of surfcasting. Coop and Janet Messineo, of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association will be taking the veterans out to Chappy to fish one afternoon.
Fishing on the beach is a whole lot more difficult from what I hear, and these fishermen are ready for the challenge. Then, that night will end with a big BBQ on Menemsha Beach from the Homeport.
If you’d like to meet the heros of the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, you can stop by the Derby weigh-in at around 8 p.m. The veterans will be there, hopefully with some big fish. There have been some winners in the past, and I bet this year will be even better.
Yes, the main thing is fishing but for the fifth year, the Nixon’s wanted to offer even more adventure for the participants. There will be a sail on the Alabama, donated by Morgan Douglas, which is one of the most amazing things to do when you’re visiting, seeing the Island in a whole new way, under sail.
Thursday will be a day of golfing at the Vineyard Golf Club. Pros are being flown in from off-Island to play with the group and help them with their swings. Then there will be a “Pro/Military Shoot Out, meaning it will be the vets vs. the pros out on the field.
Small Island, Big Impact
I bet you’re wondering how participants are chosen for this therapeutic, all expense paid event. Well, some of the candidates are nominated by friends and family members as a way to help with their recovery, and some are found by Sarah Nixon herself.
She visits the Walter Reed Hospital, and finds wounded Veterans who really need something like this — a chance to get away from the daily reminder that they have been wounded and a chance to recover with a different therapy, Saltwater Therapy.
The wounded veterans that come to Martha’s Vineyard leave different people. It’s something about this place, it’s people, it’s beauty, it’s not like anywhere else. We sometimes forget that about this place.
The American Heroes Saltwater Challenge does so much for these heroes who have given themselves to America’s armed services. How wonderful to give back to them, and we can do more.
You can volunteer to help during the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, and of course donations are needed. It’s an expensive event that the Nixon family is putting on for these heroes. They’d like to do more, but they need more money, and that’s how you can help recovering men and women. This is a small grass roots effort that can do even more.
That ‘s just a little piece of the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. It’s such a remarkable event, that there has been a film made about it. It was shown on the NatGeo, and of course is available on DVD.
However, here’s a small clip from the film, and people thought the TV show The Vineyard made the Island look pretty. Wait until you see this documentary.
Thank you for the photos, Sarah Nixon. There are some amazing pics. If you want to see more pictures and learn more about the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, you can go to their Facebook page. And speaking of social media, don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, on follow us on Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and YouTube.