Sean Gobin is the Founder and Executive Director of The Warrior Hike Organization, an amazing group that helps returning combat veterans, “Walk off the War.” In the distant past, after a grueling campaign, military units would have a long journey on foot to get back home. This afforded them time to wind down and process the experience. That’s not the case today, when military units can be fighting one day and back home the next.
After serving 3 combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sean, upon his return home, hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail to help raise money for wounded Veterans. At the conclusion of his hike, he realized the therapeutic relief he felt, and decided then to start the Warrior Hike organization to bring its benefits to fellow returning warriors. We had the chance to talk with Sean earlier this year—you can read up on that interview here.
Top Ten Hero
Sean has made it to the top ten in CNN’S Heroes of 2015. CNN’s Heroes: An all All-Star Tribute is a television special created in 2007 to honor individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and make a difference in their communities. This year’s show will air December 6th, 2015 and will feature clips on all the nominees and with the top hero announced and awarded a $100,000 grant for their organization at the end of the evening.
Mountain Khakis: First of all, congratulations on the CNN Top Ten Hero nomination! Where will this be decided? And how did you manage to get involved?
Sean Gobin: There will be a big banquet in New York City on December 6th with features on the top ten nominees aired for the show and a top hero will be chosen. A few supporters nominated me last year, then during the winter and spring a board of judges ran a screening process and selected the top 24. They came down and filmed a feature on us on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia this summer. Then the 24 were paired by the board during this summer down to ten.
MK: So what’s new for Warrior Hike this year?
SG: This year we have added the Arizona, Ice Age and Florida trails and we hope to add other states’ trails every year.
MK: You mentioned in our last interview about the new State Trails. Tell us about those and why they are important to you.
SG: The advantage on these state trails is you meet a lot of people along the way who can maybe help you transition along to the next phase in your recovery. If you’re from Arizona and hiking in Arizona, those connections might be more local than if you’re from Arizona but hiking the Appalachian Trail.
MK: Do you have any new hikes planned for next year?
SG: This coming year we are adding the Buckeye which is 1400 miles around Ohio, and the 1200 mile Mountain to Sea Trail in North Carolina.
MK: Who do you normally see participate in the Warrior Hike?
SG: Most of the veterans have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that was the original focus of our “Walk off the War” idea. But, with our new Warrior Paddle and Warrior Bike events, we’ll be able to include disabled veterans with lower or upper body extremity injuries in our program.
MK: Tell us about these new events. What is the Warrior Paddle?
SG: The Warrior Paddle, which is a paddle trip down the entire length of the Mississippi, started this summer (2015) with preparation and trial runs. It’s a 2,300 mile paddle trip that goes from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans. It’s about a 5 month trip, and we are in trial runs this year. There are currently 4 veterans on the river—they started in July and they should finish the end of November.
MK: Will it be open to anyone next year?
SG: Next year it will be open and we hope to have disabled Vets participate who can’t run but will be able to paddle.
MK: What exactly is the Warrior Bike and when will it take place?
SG: The Warrior Bike, which will offer adaptive cycles for those who need them, will hopefully run in 2016 as well. It is called the Warrior Bike Trans America and runs 4700 miles from Oregon to Virginia.
MK: Every time we talk, your numbers of participants has increased. How has your turnout been this year?
SG: The turnout has been great. We had 31 veterans enrolled in trips this year up from 25 last year. We have already received 250 applications for next year.
MK: These hikes are long and arduous. How many veterans would you say complete the entire trail?
SG: About 50% finish the entire hike. Usually what stops them is overuse of injuries, like knee pain and ankle sprains.
MK: How are the sponsorships coming along?
SG: The sponsors have been great; we have been very fortunate. Last year I would say about 90-95% of all our gear was donated.
MK: You mentioned last time you never have time to join a whole hike. Has that changed for you yet?
SG: I still only get to join in the first week of a hike to help get everyone settled. I try to jump in around the halfway mark to check how things are going and am always there at the finish.
MK : Sounds like you’re still very busy. Last year you said you had 5 volunteer staffers. How much help do you have right now?
SG: I get completely over-tapped at times. We do have a staff of 15 great volunteers and hope to bring 5 more in this year, but we’re still overwhelmed.
MK: Can you tell us how folks can help out?
SG: You can go to our website at warrriorhike.org; we take donations and sell t-shirts, hats, patches, and stickers where 100% of all sales go to the program. You can look at our site for information on the hikes and if a trail goes through your area, we can always use folks who are willing to put a hiker up for the night, give him a home cooked meal, or just a bed to crash in. If anyone wants to help out, they can always contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Voting for CNN’s Hero of the year will continue until November 15, 2015. You can vote for Sean or any other nominee through this link: CNN Hero of the Year