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He went to rehab for drug addiction. Now he's a world-class athlete. This is his story.

Feeling trapped by social stereotypes, Gavan Hennigan turned to drugs and alcohol.

He went to rehab for drug addiction. Now he's a world-class athlete. This is his story.

Gavan Hennigan is a world-class athlete.

He's a 35-year-old ultra-marathoner who recently set an international record as the fastest person to row solo across the Atlantic in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. To put this in perspective, more people have been to space than have rowed the Atlantic.

In short, Hennigan is unstoppable.


Photo via Ben Duffy. All images used with permission.

But 14 years ago, things weren’t looking so bright.

Hennigan's childhood was rough. His father was an alcoholic. It made him a deeply angry person from a young age.

He found his solace in sport and nature. He grew up a few hundred meters from Ireland's Galway Bay and was an avid swimmer. He says his earliest memories involve time spent outdoors.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

As a teen, Hennigan says he knew he was gay. But the uncertainty of what that meant for his future — and his harbored anger and the abandonment he felt because of his father — led him to find comfort in drinking around age 16. Later, he turned to other drugs and substances, including heroin.

Six years into his drug addiction, Hennigan found himself living in a squat in London. Trash bags were taped over the window to keep out the light and fresh air. He was completely disconnected from nature, the very thing that had always brought him comfort.

He moved back to Ireland and, at 21, began a rehab program. It was at this program that Hennigan decided to come out. Unfortunately, the brave moment was met with a homophobic response.

“The guy who I was sharing a room with specifically left rehab because he was sharing a room with a gay guy,” Hennigan recalls.

Hennigan attempted suicide after the six-week rehab program.

“I felt cornered. I felt like, ‘This seems like the only option to get out of the way I feel right now.’ A lot of it was the sexuality thing. You don’t just figure that out overnight,” he says.

The recovery process was not an easy one. Gavan found himself dealing not only with his addictions, but with the difficulty of being gay in Ireland through the '90s and early 2000s. His complicated feelings about his own sexuality made his recovery a series of fits and starts.

Hennigan began to surf on the west coast of Ireland. He credits much of his recovery to reconnecting with nature.

He also started competing in ultra-marathons, trekking across Siberia, scaling mountains, and eventually rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

“A lot of people comment that I’ve replaced one addiction with another, but I don’t see it that way at all," he says. "I see addiction as very damaging. I feel like I’ve tapped into some crazy energy within myself. It’s more about passion and trying to see the world and trying to experience as much as I can.”

Even though Hennigan's hashtag as he rowed across the Atlantic was #souloGav, he credits recovery to opening up to others.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

Looking back, he saw that he was internalizing all of his negative thoughts and emotions, which allowed them to gain power and to seem larger than life.

“No matter how bad you think it is, talking about it to somebody takes the power out of it,” he says. Gavan clarifies that speaking his innermost thoughts is still not an easy task and that voice of doubt is still there, but it's much quieter than before.

“It's the absolute hardest thing. I’ll go out on the Atlantic Ocean in 30-foot waves, I’ll run 500 [kilometers] in the Arctic, but when I have to sit down with somebody and talk about my feelings — that’s 100 times scarier.”

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

Hennigan says he didn’t feel like he fit into any one societal stereotype — not of a gay man or of an ultra-athlete. But that's exactly why he wants to share his story.

He hopes that in talking about his life, young people who may be struggling with the similar identity or addiction issues can see that being a gay man or a recovering addict doesn’t mean you're just one thing.

“I want to share my story so other younger guys who feel like ‘There isn’t a guy like me out there' — there is.”

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

via @Todd_Spence / Twitter

Seven years ago, Bill Murray shared a powerful story about the importance of art. The revelation came during a discussion at the National Gallery in London for the release of 2014's "The Monuments Men." The film is about a troop of soldiers on a mission to recover art stolen by the Nazis.

After his first time performing on stage in Chicago, Murray was so upset with himself that he contemplated taking his own life.

"I wasn't very good, and I remember my first experience, I was so bad I just walked out — out onto the street and just started walking," he said.

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