For these vets, getting the right surfboard was more than a gift — it was a lifeline.
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Starbucks Upstanders Season 2

After 15 deployments, Navy SEAL Alex West returned home a different man.

“[It] really put a lot of strain on my body,” he explained, and that strain left West struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and a traumatic brain injury.

But, despite the pain and trauma from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, one thing still remained a constant: West's love for the water.


“I joined the Navy to be a SEAL," he says. "I think there is something special about the saltwater.”

All photos provided by Starbucks.

It comes as no surprise, then, that West would find healing and recovery in the waves.

Tapping into the sense of wholeness he found in the water, he turned to surfing as a way to cope with the after-effects of war.

“The moment that you catch a wave, there’s something about it in your mind that there is nothing else that goes on in the world,” he shared. “You just step away from that everyday life of getting ready for deployments or for combat.”

Turns out, he wasn’t the only vet to find a sense of calm in the water.

Fellow Navy SEAL James McFadden found comfort from the ocean too, after he returned from his first deployment having taken two bullets to the leg. He had to have 27 operations.

At first, he had worried he wouldn't be able to surf again, but he was determined to try, so he joined an adaptive surf program at Balboa Hospital. That's where he met West.

“When we first met each other, it was a huge surf day,” West explains. “And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, this is not good, this is going to be kind of dangerous.’”

But McFadden was unfazed. “I just crushed it out to the lineup,” he says.

West was amazed and inspired — watching McFadden skimming across the waves, he realized there was a real opportunity to make surfing more accessible for veterans like McFadden, who would benefit from custom equipment.

“Just because some of these guys and gals are missing legs or have serious injuries, it doesn’t mean that they can’t push it,” he says. “But there wasn’t one place that just specifically designed adaptive surfing equipment [for them].”

That’s how West got the idea for One More Wave — a nonprofit to help disabled veterans get back on the water with equipment designed especially for them.

If you are missing a limb, West explains, you might need a handle to hold the board better, or you might need to move the fins of the board for better support.

West and his crew connected with vets who badly needed new gear to get back on the water and helped them through inventive designs and community support.

“We’re bringing guys out, we’re studying them, we’re surfing with them,” West explains. “By providing them with a truly customized adaptive surfboard, we are able to help [them] catch more waves.”

But it’s about more than just surfboards it’s about the healing that happens when they get back out on the water.

One of the veterans whose life was transformed by One More Wave is Tommy Counihan, who says he finally found the sense of belonging and peace that he had been searching for on the water.

“I went from wanting to kill myself to wanting to conquer the f***ing world,” he admits. “[I wanted] to go out and break down all those limitations that I had set up for myself."

“I got that from surfing,” he continues.

When West heard stories like Counihan’s, he realized he was offering something much more important than just gear — he was offering a sense of kinship and community, which veterans returning from war so often needed.

For these vets, finding a sense of purpose, healing, and community can be life-saving.

War can be incredibly traumatic, with upward of 11-20% of veterans returning from Iraq suffering from PTSD, and nearly 1 million veterans living with a disability after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with nonprofits like West's, the quality of life for these veterans can be vastly improved with the right support.

“Whether you are dealing with an injury [or] you’re down, there is a way to get out of the darkness,” West says. “There’s a lot to live for in life. There’s still another wave to catch.”

Check out the amazing work of One More Wave in the video below:

Upstanders: The Wave to Recovery

Two Navy SEALs are giving wounded veterans a new adventure on the water. #VeteransDay

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, November 10, 2017
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less