Wake for Warriors

Riding with Wolves in a World Full of Sheep

By T.R. Matson

The sun breaks over the horizon and sheds light on the calm of the scene.  Temperatures soar as the light from the sun warms the land.  The light brings with it the beginning of a new day.  Movement starts and time begins to tick.  Pain from the previous day begins to make itself known as the warriors wake up one by one.  Each one has his or her own ritual in the morning that is often very different from yours and mine.  Some days are harder than others, but today there is a familiar feeling. It’s a driving force that many have not felt in a long time.  A feeling that once was their sole motivation to wake up is now back, and it’s immediately at war with the feeling of pain.  This internal war might cripple some, but to these warriors this internal war is a welcome and familiar feeling.  They feel pain, but that also means they are alive.  While this scene is repeated all over the world in some of the most unfriendly places, today is different.  Today the warriors are met with a different goal.  Today they must put aside everything they dealt with yesterday, and everything else going on in their life, and focus on the job at hand…to learn how to surf.

            Wake for Warriors was founded on the simple principle of connecting with injured military veterans through sharing a passion for wake and water sports.  Through this connection they provide these warriors some worry-free days on the lake to learn how to wakeboard and wake surf.  During these lake days, they believe the healing process from the scars of war can occur.  By focusing on developing a skill, connecting with others, and sharing their stories, these warriors can take one step toward remembering where they came from and who they truly are.

            Down by the water the boats begin to arrive.  Glistening machines outfitted with powerful engines and technology that allow them to create amazing endless waves.  These machines will carry each warrior today as they move forward to try to conquer the next challenge in front of them. While that accomplishment may be the main thing in their sights, there are many more gifts the boats will bring with them.  These warriors are very different from most people walking around.  They have been to the ugliest places in the world, at the worst times, and have seen the worst in people.  Those experiences have allowed them to truly appreciate what they have back home.  Many come back broken, and while all the injuries are not visible, they affect each one differently.  Coming back from war-torn lands to a place you used to call home is not easy, and it is often difficult to find others who understand what you are feeling, but today is different.  Each warrior comes from a different background, but as they sit together over coffee and breakfast, they are one.  They relive their experiences from the previous day, speaking of wipeouts and triumphs.  They speak of different equipment, wave settings, and music choices that helped them conquer the wave.  They are “spreading the shred.”

            In a world where warriors, men and women alike, are often sent home and seemingly discarded back to “normal” life, Wake for Warriors gives them hope.  These men and women, while very different on the surface, have a genetic makeup that is similar.  They all answered the phone when their country was calling for help.  Each one ran into the chaos when others were running away.  Each one put his or her own safety aside to protect the brothers and sisters around them and, because of that, each one has scars.  Whether it is a missing limb or something less obvious, it is there.  The interesting thing, though, is while it seems everything about them has changed through these trials and tribulations, their genetic makeup has stayed the same.  They still run towards a challenge, help their brothers and sisters, and never stop telling the best stories when around their new family.  I have watched these men and women show up at the dock battered and beaten by injuries and internal struggles and leave three days later prouder and happier than ever.  There is something in the water that gives these men and women their lives back.  It is the sound of the engines, the cool water, the camaraderie, or a combination of all three that gives these warriors their power and freedom back. 

            Dropping the rope is often the cumulation of many hours behind the boat and many falls.  Gallons of lake water in their lungs doesn’t deter these warriors because they will overcome and conquer this, as they have many things before.  While none of them would compare this to battle, this challenge brings them back to life.  On Sunday when the goodbyes are said, the hugs are shared, and the tears of joy begin, the feelings are all the same.  While these warriors have developed a new skill, it is far more important what they remembered about themselves.  They are not broken.  They are the same person inside they have always been.  They are the heroes to their husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers.  They are brothers and sisters in a family that very few will actually be a part of, and when this world seems to be changing faster than you can keep up with, the internal fire of drive has been ignited once again.  That internal determination is what has allowed them to accomplish so much, and although for many that fire was down to embers when they returned home, it was rekindled somewhere on the lake.  That internal fire makes each and every one of these warriors unstoppable, and it’s what causes them to be wolves in a world full of sheep. 

Failure is the ONLY option

By: T.R. Matson

It was a beautiful Friday morning as I parked at the military hospital.  My plan was to finish my annual flight physical and get started on my weekend.  The weather was supposed to be great, and I was looking forward to a few days off work.  As I entered the waiting area, there were half a dozen service men and women waiting to be seen by the doctor, yet one man who stood out.  He was sitting all alone wearing jeans, a polo shirt, and a Vietnam Veteran ball cap.  He sat patiently waiting while leaning on the oxygen tank that sat in front of him and helped him breathe.  With a quick glance around the room it seemed as if everyone had sat as far away as they could from the gentleman whose eyes looked tired yet still very much alive.

            After checking in at the front desk I sat down across from him.  I was a young Ensign in the Navy and proudly wearing my flight suit this Friday morning.  Our eyes caught each other, he smiled, and I returned a simple nod and “good morning sir.”  He took that opening and immediately asked me if I was going through flight training and followed up with asking what I wanted to fly.  Our conversation flowed easily, and time passed without notice.  He told me that he wanted to be a pilot when he was my age but when he learned of the low success rate, he never pursued it.  Before he knew it, he was sent to Vietnam and his life path was set.  He asked me why I was in the hospital, and I asked him the same.  That is where this went from being just another Friday morning to something I will never forget.

            “I’m dying, son. I am just here to say goodbye and thank all the staff that has tried to help me.”  I sat there in shock.  While he didn’t look exceptionally healthy breathing from the oxygen bottle, he also didn’t look like he was going to die anytime soon.  I suppose that my shock was evident on my face, and he immediately changed the subject.  He went on to tell me about his wife and children, as well as the friends he had made while serving in the military.  Some had already passed and others he still spoke to everyday.  He told me about his life after the military, his favorite brand of whiskey, and how he could still smell his wife’s perfume if he closed his eyes even though she had passed years prior from cancer.  His spirits lifted as he spoke of her and their life together.  He smiled and told me he had a full life and with his days numbered he had only one regret.  Before I could even decide if I wanted to ask him what it was, he offered it to me, “I never failed at anything.”

            While on the surface this could come across as an overly arrogant man bragging on his accomplishments, I learned the truth was actually very different.  Here sitting across from me was a man that undoubtedly had seen some pretty amazing things, both good and bad, during his lifetime.  He was facing his own mortality and he explained to me that he never really pushed himself enough to fail at anything.  He gave the example of being told that learning how to fly was too difficult, and that he would likely fail, so he never tried.  The gravity of that point hit me like a rock as I sat there and hung on his every word.  I realized that I was speaking to a man who had lived his whole life and only regretted how he did it.  He told me that there were so many times when he would come to a fork in the road of life, and he had to choose whether to take the path that would be comfortable or the one that took him out of his comfort zone.  He always took the comfortable one.  He ended the conversation when his name was called with a halfhearted joke that he wondered where he would be if he had chosen differently.

            As he left the room, I sat there with my own thoughts trying to process the advice he left me with.  “Never stop failing.”  To this day, there are many times that I sit alone and think of the old man in the hospital.  Life has a way of offering challenges when we sometimes least expect it.  It is very easy to get comfortable and listen to those around us say our goals are impractical.  Today, many years later, I think back on my own life.  There have been many highs and lows, and I have experienced things that if you told me I would, back on that Friday morning, I would not have believed you.  One thing is for sure, that old man’s words stuck with me more than I could have ever imagined.  I laugh at the times that I went for something that seemed utterly impossible only to succeed.  Other times I have failed, and sometimes those failures have been huge, but they always lead to other opportunities and experiences that I would not have had if I just took the comfortable road.

            So today I want to pass on the words of a great old man who had lived a great life with only one regret.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Don’t let the strongest muscle, your brain, get in the way of your success.  When people around you say you cannot do something, prove them wrong.  Life is very short, and we only get one chance. Don’t waste the time listening to what other people tell you with regards to what you can and cannot accomplish.  Listen to your heart, and let it drive your passion. While you may fail at times, those failures will bring opportunities and life lessons that will make you stronger in the long run.  In order to be truly successful at life, failure is the only option.

My Nemesis

By: T.R. Matson

There he is again.  I slowly focus on the noise that I am now very accustomed to hearing day in and day out.  I know what that sound means for me.  It means constant pain and struggle in order to beat him.  My muscles ache down to the bone from our training the previous day, but I know that he won’t leave me alone if I just try to ignore him.  Maybe that is exactly what I should do.  Just ignore him and get on with my day.  When I look at the calendar, I have plenty to do.  Whether it is meetings, chores, or things I’ve been putting off, I know that there is plenty that I could focus my energy on and still feel like I’ve accomplished a lot today.  Without fail I slowly start moving in order to appease him.  Joints ache and muscles still burn but slowly as I am moving, I realize that I am also feeling better.  Like motor oil coating valuable engine parts my body comes alive.  At first the task at hand seems unrealistic and daunting but slowly minute-by-minute it is becoming clearer.  As I decide to go with the full finger bike gloves due to the colder temperatures outside, he mocks me one more time just to make sure I know who the boss is. 

                  Once outside the world becomes more and more clear.  My mind opens up to the environment around me and with the first stroke of the pedal I realize that I am slowly opening up distance between me and my nemesis.  I continue to pedal on and as I warm up more, I start crushing through the gears opening up more and more distance.  Once a comfortable distance has been opened, I am able to ponder many things alone on the bike.  One thing that crosses my mind is why I do this.  Why do we all do this?  Who in their right mind thinks that putting on an overly tight outfit and sitting on a tiny seat alone for miles and miles is a good idea?  Well we all do because day after day and week and week we press on.  Whether the goal is a sprint triathlon or competing at Kona it doesn’t matter.  We constantly track and record all of our data looking for the slightest thing that shows that we are improving.  We become slaves to our computers, heart rate monitors and GPS devices. 

                  None of that matters right now though.  Halfway through the ride that previously I thought was unattainable, thanks to the nagging of my nemesis, I realize that I can do this.  I also realize why I do this.  It may sound simple, but I have always believed that life is short, and I want to make the most out of every day.  So that is why I do this to my body week in and week out.  I know that while I am out here, cranking the pedals mile after mile, I am constantly moving.  Life is just that simple.  If I can keep moving, I am still alive.  No matter what pain I have from yesterday’s workout or what I have ahead of me at the office, I am still alive and moving forward.  I come to this realization approaching my last turn before heading home and it lifts me up.  I suddenly have the energy to press harder.  The road feels smoother or the bike is lighter, or my legs are stronger, but it doesn’t matter because I am alive.  I crank harder now for the last mile, half mile, and hundred yards until I turn into the driveway exhausted.

                  The pain sets in and the muscles slowly begin to cramp but there is one feeling that doesn’t change.  I am alive!  I have now accomplished something this morning that only my fellow athletes could understand.  I could try to tell my folks or co-workers or dog, but I would get the same strange look in return.  I know, as I open the front door that no matter what happens today, I have already pushed myself and proven to myself that I am still alive.  I will, undoubtedly face trials and setbacks in the hours to come but my mind will drift back to that moment on the bike. 

                  As I sit down to stretch and wait for my workout data to download to my computer so I can analyze it over a cup of coffee I hear him again.  Faintly echoing from the distance it’s my nemesis, except this time he sounds different.  The noise sounds much more like triumph now then before because I have beaten him once again.  No matter how much he tries to bring me down and cause me to want to quit I know now that I have beaten him once again and nothing can take that away.  A smile slowly creeps across my face as I stand up and walk to the bedroom to confront him in victory.  Of course, as I address his noise I have to wonder if I will ever remember to just shut off the snooze on him before my ride so that I don’t wake up everyone in the house.

Just Win Today…

Learning how to control what I can.

By: T.R. Matson

I was sitting in the forward wardroom on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier.  It was 3am and the end of 2004.  The ship was sitting off the coast of Australia, and I could not sleep.  My mind was a blur of the previous two and a half years of flight school since graduating college.  I had moved five times, flew four different aircraft, and after what seemed to be countless hours and completing carrier qualifications in both the T-45 Goshawk and the E-2C Hawkeye, I had finally made it to my first fleet squadron.  As I sit in the wardroom alone wide awake, I realized that even though I had been through a top-notch aviation training program, I was not ready for what was ahead of me. 

            Hours ago, I just saw the real beast of what Naval Aviation was and flight school didn’t prepare me for that one bit.  You see, when you go through flight school everything is done in a very controlled environment.  Nothing more so than carrier qualifications.  When I went during the day in the T-45 the sea and wind conditions had to be about perfect or they wouldn’t even let us try.  Then if you graduate that and move onto your next aircraft, the one you will fly in the fleet, the restrictions for carrier qualifications with regards to weather loosened a little bit.  Of course, as I just learned, once you get to the fleet all bets are off.  This particular night I had just landed in relatively good weather.  There was a full moon and not a cloud in the sky which I would assume would make for a great landing, but I was wrong.  This particular night, off of the coast of Australia, the sea conditions were bad.  I do not remember the exact size of the waves, but there was a film crew out recording and when the episode aired on TV, I remember people were shocked that we land in conditions like that. 

            None of that really mattered to me when I was 5 miles behind the ship, and while flying my instruments to try to make a perfect approach, I happened to glance up at the world ahead of me.  To this day I can close my eyes and be transported back to that night.  I vividly watched as I saw the USS Nimitz roll to one side and then back completely to the other. In slow motion, I watched the giant 21-foot propellers of the ship come out of the water.  The only thing I could mutter was “Did you see that?” to my co-pilot who was a much more senior and experienced pilot than myself.  He knew exactly what I was talking about and immediately responded with a firm “Fly your instruments!” because he knew looking outside would not help at this point.  Somehow, I landed the plane moments later and then did my best to control it while taxiing around the pitching flight deck before the deck crew could get her chained down for the night.  To this day I truly believe it was far more luck than any airmanship that caused me to be successful that night. 

            So, as I sat alone in the forward wardroom realizing that I somehow survived and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how I was going to survive the next time I had to fly, someone entered the room and snapped me out of my haze.  It was a young enlisted airman who was getting ready to mop the floor for the night.  The exchange that occurred, while brief, I will never forget. I believe it was fundamental in shaping who I am today:

            “Rough night, sir?”

            “Yeah, it was crazy out there.”

            “Well, just remember that all we can do is win today.”

 “Just win today” has echoed in my head ever since.  As I sit here and write this, we live in an ever-changing world.  People are being told to stay home and quarantine themselves because of a virus that we are learning more about every day.  A virus that is no doubt taking lives around the world and changing the “normal” we have come accustomed to.  A lot of people feel like they are out of control whether it is losing jobs, taking care of the sick, or just being in close quarters with people they don’t usually spend so much time with.  There is no real end in sight with no magic date that everything will go back to normal, and that is hard to deal with.  We wake up every day and hope this was just a crazy dream, but then we realize that we need to wear a mask to go buy food, we aren’t allowed to go to work, and we can’t visit friends or enjoy many freedoms we love.

            With all this going on, that young airman’s words have never been more important.  “Just win today.”  We cannot control what tomorrow will bring, but today we can get up, take a shower, hug our loved ones and tell them that we love them.  We can set up goals that we can control and accomplish.  We can take a long look at ourselves in the mirror and decide if we like what we see or not and, if not, we can fix it.  All of the things that can be described as life’s daily noise have been put on hold for the time being.  Now is the time to simplify things and just win today.  Sitting in that wardroom and realizing that I couldn’t control what the weather would be for the next landing, or if the plane would break, or the mission would go poorly, was liberating.  Sometimes understanding what you cannot control is just as important as understanding what you can.  So, get up, get moving, make a list of things you can control, and get focused on them.  Take stock in the important things in life and know that many years from now we will look back at the year 2020 as a turning point in our lives…and it is up to you whether it will be a positive or negative turning point.  Make it a positive one!


BY: T.R. Matson

There it is.  Did you hear it? Close your eyes and listen for a second.  If you really concentrate hard you can hear it deep down inside of you beating away.  Depending on what you are doing right now it is probably operating at 50 – 100 beats per minute, and it does this everyday without fail, for our lives.  They say the typical size of your heart is a little bigger than your fist but I would argue that it is much bigger than that in terms of importance.  Sure while you are reading this your heart is pumping approximately a gallon of blood per minute, depending on your fitness level, which equates to 1,440 gallons of blood a day.  Think about that number for a second.  Inside of each and every one of us there is a relatively small muscle that sole purpose is to supply blood to the rest of the body so that we can function throughout the day…or is it?

            It happens to everyone.  You have the greatest intentions of having an amazing workout and then other things come up.  Before you know it you are convincing yourself that if you just take care of a few more things you will be able to concentrate on your workout more.  Then it happens.  You look outside and its already dark and you were scheduled to go for a long bike ride but don’t feel comfortable out there at night.  You could hop in the car and head to the gym but there are more and more excuses just piling up and the next thing you know it is time for bed and another workout day has passed.  This is where the heart comes in. 

            Once you have the ability to truly understand how powerful of a muscle the heart is then you can use it to overcome the sometimes-daily battle that occurs in every one of us between the brain and the body.  The brain is there to protect us and does an amazing job at that but does it also limit us as well?  Maybe it’s not even the brain’s fault that it limits us because we are the ones that use its power to find excuses.  Need more proof, just walk outside and take a look around.

            Look down the street at the little girl on her bike.  She is always out there for hours and hours on end.  She does not think about the stresses of daily life, partly because she doesn’t have as many as the rest of us but also because her heart is strong. She knows that when she is out there running around and playing she feels free and alive.  She doesn’t think about how tired she will be later but more so how much she is enjoying this very moment and that is all that matters to her.  Her heart is winning the battle over her brain and she is reaping the benefits of it. 

Ok I see you way in the back with your hand up and I know your question already.  “She is just a little kid and doesn’t have to deal with the same things I have to deal with everyday.  Isn’t it unfair to compare how her heart operates compared to mine?”  Well you are right and in a selfish attempt to prove a point maybe I used a bad example or maybe I just used that example to get you off the couch and out of the house because here comes example number two. 

            There he goes.  Maybe you’ve noticed him before or maybe you haven’t, but day in and day out he is out there riding his bike that was specifically made for him.  Is he an elite athlete with numerous sponsors?  No.  The bike was donated to him after he returned home from a land that most of us would never go.  He left his family and friends behind to go overseas for his country and he returned a shell of the man he was when he left.  Or did he?  Everyday when the alarm clock goes off and most of us just dread the noise his heart is already helping him with the task ahead.  It elevates almost immediately to give him the power to move.  This simple task for most that involves using our legs is no longer simple for him.  His arms ache from the day before but nonetheless he is moving and therefor he knows he is alive.  Soon he is out of bed and taking care of the same tasks we all have before our morning ride.  Sure his bike looks different and operates in a way unlike ours.  His arms drive his instead of his legs, but it still propels him to amazing speeds.  He is not making excuses about anything anymore because he knows what drives him.  So what if he legs were taken because deep down one thing remains untouched. 

It is inside him and all of us, hopefully beating a little faster now.    It doesn’t matter if you are the little girl playing with her friends or the soldier that has come home from war because deep down inside of everyone there is this amazing muscle. A muscle that not only has the ability to pump 1,440 gallons of blood a day throughout our bodies but also has the ability to lift us up when we are down, motivate us when the weather is a little too dreary, and focus us on what is truly important in this life.  Movement is life.  Whether you are taking that first step off of the couch or that final step after a 140.6-mile journey, your heart has never left you.  It is what drives each and every one of us to be something greater than we are.  So the real question you must ask yourself is, “Am I using it to its fullest potential?”