Jim Dolan: Just Keep Paddlin’
On December 31, 2016, my time as CEO will come to an end, but it will be the beginning of my role as simply a warrior who is destined to continue serving his brothers and sisters.
The choice to make a change in my journey with Heroes on the Water was not made lightly, and definitely did not come easy. That being said, HOW is and always will be my family. This is merely a title change, and nothing more.
HOW Nation has been my second family since it’s inception in 2007. I have made deep friendships and become awestruck by the bravery of the people I have come into contact with along the way. My career was challenging and rewarding all at the same time. I did my best and I was well rewarded in kindness and in friendship. It was the ultimate privilege to be part of a team, which achieved success that we can all be so proud of.
The Early Years
That very first outing we realized we were onto something. You know what they say – it’s often the simplest ideas that have the most power. Once we realized how powerful these experiences could be for our warriors, we knew we had to keep going and we had to share it with as many heroes as possible. It was then that it became our duty to serve those who had served us so valiantly.
Those early days, while fun, were not easy. It was definitely a team effort to keep going, and I could not have done it without the help of my brothers and sisters. We couldn’t imagine how big we could go; we just knew we had to keep going. It was the people who ensured that Heroes on the Water went from just a fledgling idea to a full organization helping thousands of warriors across our nation.
From our first kayak fishing outing to where we are now, we’ve accomplished more than we thought possible; but there is much more to be done, and many more heroes to be served.
The Power to Do More
I continue to be overwhelmed by the number of folks who would come up to me and thank me. “For what?” I thought. At this point I was just doing what needed to be done in order to help our heroes heal and regain the better life they deserve.
One of the earliest impactful memories I have was from December 2007, when a soldier treated for Traumatic Brain Injury at Brooks Army Medical Center attended a HOW event. He stuttered, was slow to process information, and at first did not want to get in the kayak. Once in the kayak, however, he went on to paddle and fish for four hours by himself. When we were helping him out, we asked how his morning went. For 30 seconds he was excitedly talking about how great kayaking was, that he caught 5 fish, and really enjoyed the time on the water. Then, he … and we… realized he was speaking normally. He said that was the first time in two years he was able to speak without a stutter. Although he quickly regressed to his former speech, he said “Now I know I can do it. Now I have hope.” It was at that moment we realized that HOW does significantly more than just kayak fishing.
The Growth of a Nation
We tried all types of things while growing. Some were really great, like developing structure for the chapters to follow, and some not so great, like promising to quickly deliver management software and finding out after that it was going to take a year.
It’s frustrating when you cannot make everything happen at that moment because we wanted to move as quickly as possible to support our warriors. However, sometimes you have to slow down to do it right, rather than fast. I’m not patient when it comes to that, and I get excited about helping our chapters serve.
Regardless of the trials, the challenges, and the ups and downs, we had to keep going because our military community deserves so much for their sacrifice. We may not be perfect, but we never quit.
This year alone, we’ve grown from 54 chapters to 81, which only further expands our ability to help more heroes. In addition, we’ve served 6,545 veterans along with 2,276 of their family members up until the end of November. Seeing the numbers doesn’t do justice to the impact we make for our warriors when they set out on the water. I ask you, my family, to continue serving to keep the hope for our heroes alive.
I am so proud of the Heroes on the Water team – from the warriors to the family members to the volunteers and chapter leadership, to my leadership team. You have all contributed in saving lives. Thank you for sharing in this cause with me, and thank you for the support and friendship of over 9 years.
Here’s to 2017 HOW Nation! Paddle on!