Tales from the Front Lines
“I Didn’t See a Correlation Between Kayaking and Mental Health”
At times everyone struggles. At Heroes on the Water, we are honored to serve those who step up and ensure our freedom and safety. When one of those fine folks lets us know how we helped, that is certainly a fine day for us here at HOW. Please read Matt Bagley’s story. It is why we do what we do.
My name is Matt Bagley. I’ve worked in the fire service for 14 years as both a fireman and paramedic. Unfortunately, I don’t think my story is unique to the first responder world. Early on, I was just happy to be here and was eager to prove myself. Somewhere along the line, things changed. It happened so slowly; I don’t even know the moment it happened. I was told early on that I needed to manage my “personal health.” I thought this was physical and maybe emotional but couldn’t really see what I was being warned away from, so I brushed it off. I was fine. Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of bad calls, but I haven’t set any records for the most or worst. When I started changing, I called it “maturity” or “battle scars” because it made me seem like I was in control. In short, all of the chronic stress, death, and destruction caught up with me and I had a season of reckoning. Reaching out for help was a big step and painful. I tried all the usual things. Most of them didn’t work, but I was encouraged to keep trying. I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t be recovering as I am today if I had given up and given in. One thing I’ve learned is that healing takes a multi-faceted approach; there’s no silver bullet. It has taken me a lot of hard work on many different fronts to experience whatever healing I’ve gained and I’m still traveling that road today.
It’s amazing how simple a thing can be to have a profound effect on your overall health. About a year ago (Fall 2019), I relented and accepted an invitation from Brian Clark with my local chapter of Heroes on the Water. I didn’t attend events like this because I didn’t see a correlation between kayaking and mental health. I didn’t serve in the military and didn’t feel I deserved it. And I didn’t want to take a seat that might prevent a worthy vet from participating. Brian made me feel that I wasn’t violating any of these and gently and consistently kept inviting me. I’m glad I went. I haven’t had any earth-shattering Hollywood moments with tears and amazing sunsets on the horizon as I’ve realized my life’s purpose, but I’ve found something that is simple and relaxing that takes my mind off myself and my issues. I’ve found a group that I can be a part of that doesn’t require all of my extra time outside or work and nobody makes me talk about my past. I just show up and a part of my story is understood and accepted – just like that. I’ve realized that my family wears scars from my job and my hurts. I went out and bought a tandem kayak several months ago. It’s been good for us. I still plan to attend our local Heroes on the Water events when they open back up from Covid, but now I can take my wife and kids out one at a time and just be still with them. I’m seeing the same reaction in them that I had when I first started getting out on the water. There’s a simplicity to it and some things just don’t have to be hard.
I’m very appreciative of your organization. The fact that you all give your time and resources means more than I know how to say. Keep up the good work and please let me know if I can be of any service.
Captain with the Springdale, AR Fire Department.