TBIs had him considering suicide but a paddleboard helped save him

Eric Dehm
June 07, 2018 - 12:04 pm

Photo courtesy Josh Collins

Josh Collins always sought out challenges. That much is obvious by just looking at an Army career that includes time spent with at the 82nd Airborne, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, aka Delta Force before he retired in 2008. He sought membership in the most elite units while in the Army and achieved them all. 

Years after he left the service he was forced to confront a totally new type of challenge, one that sought him out and led to the darkest time in his life. 

Photo courtesy Josh Collins

One traumatic brain injury can be life-altering, Josh Collins suffered nine. Seven were on active duty, two more came during time as a contractor following his retirement. After those last two, he'd end up hospitalized for three months in Florida at the VA's Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center.

The after-effects of his injuries, including severe balance and equilibrium issues, made everyday life incredibly difficult. That was particularly hard to take for a man who was used to accomplishing tasks some would say border on the superhuman. That began a downward spiral that had him thinking about taking his own life.

"I think it was 5 May, I think 2015, that y'know I really kinda count that day that I was a dead man walking," Collins said during an appearance on the Morning Briefing radio show. "I got into the polytrauma center and it was for these traumatic brain injuries, but I was certainly very suicidal. My wife knew."

Photo courtesy Josh Collins

Through the support of his wife, friends and co-workers Collins says he committed to staying alive, but he wasn't happy with doctors who told him his future was likely to be someone sitting around "waiting for my next pill cup." He wanted to find something to bring him back to life, back to being active and he found what he was looking for, and more, the moment he climbed onto a paddleboard. Everything melted away, even his balance issues. 

"The world stood still as soon as I stepped on the board," Collins recalled. "Literally, because of the movement of the water, the horizon stood still and it was like I was on concrete, unlike what I would experience when I'm on dry land where everything is always moving around me. I was shocked. I told the physical therapist afterwards and they kinda laughed and said 'I guess you'll have to live on a paddleboard then.'"

Collins hasn't quite started living on his board, but he does spend as much time as possible on it. He also uses the paddleboard to bring awareness to veteran issues like suicide and TBI recovery. His activism on those fronts began with a paddleboard trip from Texas to New York and has him now preparing for one of the most difficult open-water races in North America.

41 teams entered the 2017 Race to Alaska, but only 27 finished the 750 mile open water race through treacherous waters from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. It's a competition open to all unpowered watercraft, from sailboats over 30 feet to rowboats, kayaks and even paddleboards. When this year's race kicks off on June 14th Collins will be on his board among the competitors as the sole member of "Team Torrent." He will be using the race to bring attention to the issue of veteran suicide, and to raise money for various veteran organizations, via his Operation Torrent campaign, which will include live-streaming video of his progress on the website.

Along with raising funds, Collins hopes to raise spirits of those struggling like he was, with paddleboarding serving as an inspirational metaphor.

"Sometimes when I'm crossing a large bay, or large open water, and the winds are against me, the waves are against me, it's literally like sticking a pole in the ground and crawling, and pulling yourself one yard at a time and that's the only thing that matters at that moment. That next paddle stroke. Staying alive and reaching your objective, reaching the shore."

You can listen to the full interview with josh Collins below by clicking Play to stream now or clicking Share and selecting Download from the available options to listen later.

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