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Elite Athletes and Veterans Teach Leadership and Personal Growth through Adventure

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org. Photos by Jenifer Forbes | Apr 01, 2016
For more than a decade, Beijing Olympic bronze medalist Dan Walsh lived on the high of being an elite, national team athlete and being challenged daily to prepare for racing on the world stage.
walshFor more than a decade, Beijing Olympic bronze medalist Dan Walsh lived on the high of being an elite, national team athlete and being challenged daily to prepare for racing on the world stage.

When he left rowing - after selection for the 2012 Olympic eight concluded without him being included - Walsh retired from international rowing. He took a job coaching at Northeastern University, and later worked on the Boston bid to bring the Olympic Games to the Bay State in 2024. When that ended abruptly, he went to work for a private company involved in fitness and training technology.

Then, Charles Pollak, a friend and former rower who was working with the founders of a startup adventure expedition company called Myrmidon Expeditions, asked him for help filling out entries the company was planning to enter in a Red Bull Challenge rowing event in Boston last August.

Pollak explained that the company was being formed by two former Marines and a Navy Seal, all combat veterans, hoping to provide an outlet for former service members and elite athletes to re-experience the kind of high-energy adventure they may have been missing since retirement. He explained they were also hoping to provide an opportunity for “average Joes” to develop leadership qualities and experience personal growth.

Walsh said he immediately understood the concept behind the company.

“When you come into the real world after being an elite solider or sailor or Olympian, depression can become your worst enemy,” he said. “You’ve lived off of the high of competition and elite training for so long that trying to find that in a normal life, working with normal people, was really hard.
 
“You went from having this group of like-minded people where anything was possible - everyone thinking they’re going to be the best in the world - to being around everyday people who had never experienced anything like that. You don’t find that adrenaline rush everywhere, and when you are removed from it, you can get depressed.”

Walsh jumped right in and rounded up former teammates and athletes training in Boston, including adaptive athletes rowing at Community Rowing Inc., to participate in the Red Bull event.

walsh2It wasn’t long before Walsh and Pollak were invited to become part of the company and were named “co-founders.”

Today, Walsh and company are planning to run several events and expeditions, the first of which is set for this coming weekend at the San Diego Crew Classic. The event is called the “Myrmidon Mash” and will include a multi-discipline team race involving beach runs, swimming, paddle boarding and team boat sprints.

So far, there are three teams entered in the event and Walsh is hoping that more people sign on to compete on site. Following the Crew Classic, the company plans on holding “assessment weekends” for interested, non-elite athletes or service members to test their ability to participate on one of the future planned expeditions.

The first expedition of 2016 will include a veterans and elite athletes-only event scheduled for May 25-June 13. It is a tribute to World War II veterans that will begin on the beaches of Normandy, France where the allies landed on D-Day. It will feature a 533-mile bike ride, a summit bid of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe and a 288-mile bike ride to Marseille on the southern coast of France.

Following that, future exhibitions will open on a “pay-to-play” basis to people who pass an assessment weekend.

The goal of the company is to use outdoor challenges and adventure to “forge personal growth and teach leadership,” to men and women without elite-level sports or military experience by matching them with people who have performed at a high level and know how to lead, Walsh said.

“I lived that life for 12 years at the highest level,” he said. “Being part of a rowing team taught me how to endure personal challenges and to overcome obstacles. We want to offer that experience to people who have never had the opportunity.

“We’re a company that focuses on personal growth through teamwork and the outdoors,” he said. “But personal growth doesn’t happen right away. It’s a long, involved process. That’s something I learned from my 12 years on the national team and something I can share.”

Click here to learn more about Myrmidon Expeditions.

For information on the 2016 San Diego Crew Classic, click here
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