AUSTIN (KXAN) — Since 2016, a Texas-based nonprofit has provided “adventure therapy” sailing trips around the globe, utilizing the healing powers of the sea to help veterans and other first responders navigating with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, Skeleton Crew Adventures has set its sights on the Ocean Globe Race 2023, serving as the only team from the United States to partake in this year’s race. Its race team includes:

  • Taylor Grieger: U.S. Navy, Houston, Texas
  • Marc Vital: U.S. Marine Corps, Kemah, Texas
  • Ricky Gonzalez: U.S. Marine Corps, Dallas, Texas
  • Sam Radoff: U.S. Navy, San Diego, California
  • TJ Bulgerin: Brother of U.S. Navy Corpsman, Austin, Texas
  • Troy Minchew: U.S. Navy, Houston, Texas
  • Bartholomew Timm: U.S. Navy, Kemah, Texas
  • Colm Walker: U.S. Army, San Diego, California
  • Dane Hylen: U.S. Army, Croghan, New York
  • Clayton Young: U.S. Army, Muskogee, Oklahoma
  • Emma Walker: Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, Merseyside, United Kingdom

The Ocean Globe Race doesn’t feature the glitz and glam of modern day sailboats or boating technology. Instead, participating teams will sail in boats made in the 1970s and 1980s and navigating with electronic-free sextants.

For the Skeleton Crew, the Kemah, Texas-based team operates both day-sail trainings as well as multi-day excursions off shore and along the Texas coast. Collectively, the nonprofit has taken more than 250 veterans on sailing expeditions and has covered more than 27,000 nautical miles.

But one statistic serves as an especially poignant achievement for the nonprofit: None of the veterans who’ve joined the Skeleton Crew team has died by suicide. It’s noted as mental health complications continue to be a cornerstone of concern for veteran services.

In 2020, reporting compiled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found 6,146 veterans died by suicide, averaging out to a daily rate of 16.8 lives lost. That year did mark 343 fewer veterans lost to suicide than 2019, with suicide volumes decreasing each year since 2006; however, the work continues to support veterans with trauma-informed care to help them receive the treatments they need as they readjust to civilian life.

“What we try and do is bring [crew members] a new lease of life, show them that there is life worth living,” said Sam Radoff. He served in the United States Navy as a rescue swimmer and through it, met Taylor Grieger, the founder of Skeleton Crew.

Radoff said PTSD and the trauma that comes with it is a reality for many veterans, military personnel and first responders. Through working in a team environment, he added his hope is that veterans feel that same sense of camaraderie and community they felt during their time in the armed forces.

“The resources that you have coming out of the military are abysmal — there’s nothing there,” he said. “And trying to get that help and that support that you need for that transition, it’s tough and it’s rough. So with us, what we do is we bring them out on the sailing, get them out in the environment, and get them feeling and acting in that same kind of environment that was in the military. It goes a long way.”

For Grieger, he said his goal for the nonprofit is for it to help inspire real, comprehensive conversations surrounding veterans’ mental health and the reality of veteran suicides. Using this global race’s reach and platform, he said, could help Skeleton Crews connect with more veterans in need of support who might not yet be aware of the nonprofit and its resources.

“We really focus on preventing suicides instead of putting a band-aid on it and reacting after the fact — we try and catch guys before there’s a problem,” he said.

He added his hope is that those who learn of the nonprofit’s mission can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and recognize they are not alone and there are resources for those struggling.

“There’s ways to live healthy again,” he said. “When you’re alone, feeling like nobody has your back and you’re gonna have to live in pain for the rest of your life….it’s just, it’s not true. There’s a way to get healthy again. There’s a team of us, begging for you to come join us and show you that you can live a healthy life again, that you can get better.”

Skeleton Crew aims to raise an additional $50,000 for their expedition by June 10, when crews set sail on the multi-months-long race. More information on Skeleton Crew, including how to get involved and donate, is available online.